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Toxoplasmosis

Definition

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, also known as T. gondii.

What is going on in the body?

Toxoplasmosis is found worldwide, and can infect most species of warm-blooded animals. It is often found in cats. Once infected, a cat will excrete the parasite in its feces for a few weeks. The parasite in the feces needs 1 to 2 days to mature before it can infect other animals. Once mature, the parasite causes infection and forms cysts in the tissues of the animal that eat the feces. People can acquire T. gondii by eating undercooked meats with the cysts or by swallowing the parasite in dirt or foods contaminated with cat feces.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, is the cause of toxoplasmosis.
People can acquire toxoplasmosis by eating poorly cooked or raw meat and by caring for cats infected with the parasite.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the infection?

To prevent this disease:
  • Eat only thoroughly cooked meats.
  • Wear gloves when gardening. The parasite can survive in moist, shaded soil or sand for months
  • Change cat litter boxes daily and wash hands immediately afterwards.
  • Minimize your cat's stalking behavior. Cats become infected by eating contaminated prey
  • Have your child remember to always wash her hands after playing with the cat. Fecal matter could be transferred from the cat's fur.
  • Wear disposable rubber gloves when cleaning the litter box. If you're pregnant, have someone else do this chore.
  • Treat any cat bite or scratch immediately
  • Try to prevent your cat from jumping onto eating surfaces
  • Cover your child's sandbox to prevent your can from defecating in it
People with HIV who have been infected with T. gondii in the past may need to take antibiotics to prevent toxoplasmosis from recurring.

Diagnosed

How is the infection diagnosed?

Doctors use a blood test that looks for antibodies to the parasite to diagnose this disease.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the infection?

An infant that acquired toxoplasmosis before birth can go on to have serious problems, including mental retardation, after birth. Toxoplasmosis can be fatal in people with damaged immune systems.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

A pregnant woman who develops toxoplasmosis can spread it to her unborn child.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the infection?

Medications used to treat toxoplasmosis in an immunosuppressed person include: pyrimethamine (i.e., Daraprim), sulfadiazine (i.e., Micorsulfon), and leucovorin (i.e., folinic acid).
Spiramycin is used to treat a pregnant woman with toxoplasmosis (although the drug is not yet FDA approved for this in the U.S.)
Other drugs are used for CNS toxoplasmosis.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Serious problems are rare. Sometimes use of the drug results in abnormalities in blood cells and/or a folic acid deficiency.

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