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Watch What You Eat: Toxoplasmosis Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Watch What You Eat: Toxoplasmosis Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

What is toxoplasmosis? What are toxoplasmosis symptoms?

Toxoplasmosis is a foodborne illness which does not induce symptoms in most healthy persons, but may cause serious illness in pregnant women and those with weak immune systems. It is among the leading causes of death in the United States. Infection is also high in regions with warmer, humid climates and lower altitudes as this environment supports the growth of the organism that causes the disease. Toxoplasmosis symptoms vary in persons at risk and tend to be serious if left untreated.

Causes

The disease is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can be transmitted through a number of ways, including:

  • The consumption of undercooked and contaminated meat or shellfish
  • Entry of the parasite through breaks in the skin
  • Ingestion of food contaminated by cookware (such as cutting boards) and utensils or food that had contact with polluted meat or shellfish
  • Drinking contaminated water
  • Contact with cat feces
  • Handling soil in the garden
  • Eating unwashed fruits or vegetables

In pregnancies, T. gondii may be transmitted to the baby by an infected mother. The parasite may also spread through an infected organ transplant, although this is rare.

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Toxoplasmosis symptoms

In immunocompetent persons, there will be no toxoplasmosis symptoms. However, for pregnant females and infants, symptoms may include:

  • Body aches
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Tiredness

The following toxoplasmosis symptoms may appear for immunocompromised persons:

  • Confusion
  • Poor coordination
  • Seizures
  • Lung illnesses similar to tuberculosis or pneumonia
  • Blurred vision due to extreme inflammation of the retina

In babies, who acquired the disease, symptoms may include:

  • Seizures
  • Jaundice
  • Larger liver and spleen
  • Severe eye infections

Often, these children do not develop or show these signs until they are adolescents.

Who is at risk for toxoplasmosis symptoms?

Most healthy individuals do not manifest symptoms even if they are infected with the parasite, since their immune system keeps it at bay.

Immunocompromised people are more at risk for toxoplasmosis.

The condition is also dangerous if a pregnant woman acquires the parasite for the first time while pregnant. This can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, or birth defects in the child after birth.

Treatment

For immunocompromised individuals, doctors recommend a combination of pyrimethamine and trisulfapyrimidines. For AIDS patients with toxoplasma encephalitis (a brain infection), doctors prescribe clindamycin.

In infected pregnant women, doctors recommend spiramycin if the fetus has not yet acquired the condition. This drug lessens placental infection by 60%. However, doctors note that this can cause developmental defects in the fetus, so its benefits must be assessed against the risks of congenital infection. If the baby has already been infected, pyrimethamine and trisulfapyrimidines will likewise be given.

Prevention

Pregnant or immunocompromised people may do the following to prevent infection:

  • Wear gloves when gardening or handling soil, or cleaning a cat’s litter box
  • Do not handle raw meat, or wear latex gloves when necessary
  • Cook meat all the way through
  • Wash hands thoroughly

As much as possible, have someone healthy and non-pregnant handle meat, soil, or cat feces.

Key takeaway

A single-celled parasite causes toxoplasmosis. The condition does not cause symptoms when acquired by a healthy and non-pregnant person. However, when it infects someone whose immune system is weak or someone who is pregnant, it may cause a range of symptoms such as headaches, body aches, fever, fatigue, and seizures. Treatment for toxoplasmosis are antibiotics that stunt the proliferation of T. gondii. Wearing gloves and observing proper hand hygiene may help prevent the condition.

Learn more about Foodborne Infections here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Louise Nichole Logarta Updated May 19
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
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