Toxoplasmosis is a disease that results from infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, one of the world's most common parasites.
Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled parasitic organism that can infect most animals and birds. Because it reproduces only in cats, wild and domestic felines are the parasite's ultimate host. It is also caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water; unpasteurised dairy products; using contaminated knives, cutting boards or other utensils that come into contact with raw meat; and eating unwashed fruits and vegetables.
When a person becomes infected with T gondii, the parasite forms cysts that can affect almost any part of the body — often the brain and muscles, including the heart.
If you're generally healthy, your immune system keeps the parasites in check. They remain in your body in an inactive state, providing you with lifelong immunity so that you can't become infected with the parasite again. But if your resistance is weakened by disease or certain medications, the infection can be reactivated, leading to serious complications.
If you become infected for the first time just before or during your pregnancy, you can pass the infection to your baby (congenital toxoplasmosis), even if you don't have signs and symptoms yourself.
Your baby is most at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis if you become infected in the third trimester and least at risk if you become infected during the first trimester. On the other hand, the earlier in your pregnancy the infection occurs, the more serious the outcome for your baby.
Many early infections end in stillbirth or miscarriage. Children who survive are likely to be born with serious problems, such as seizures, an enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice or severe eye infections.
Although you can't "catch" toxoplasmosis from an infected child or adult, you can become infected as a cat owner if you come into contact with cat faeces that contain the parasite. You may accidentally ingest the parasites if you touch your mouth after gardening, cleaning a litter box or touching anything that has come in contact with infected cat faeces. Cats who hunt or who are fed raw meat are most likely to harbour T gondii.
If you're pregnant or otherwise at risk of toxoplasmosis or its complications, take these steps to protect yourself:
*Help your cat stay healthy. Keep your cat indoors and feed it dry or canned cat food, not raw meat. Cats can become infected after eating infected prey or undercooked meat that contains the parasite.
*Avoid stray cats or kittens. Although all stray animals need good homes, it's best to let someone else adopt them. Most cats don't show signs of T gondii infection, and although they can be tested for toxoplasmosis, it may take up to a month to get the results.
*Have someone else clean your cat's litter box. If that's not possible, wear gloves and a face mask to change the litter. Then wash your hands well. Change the litter daily so that excreted cysts don't have time to become infectious.
Your doctor will monitor your treatment.