What is Toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis (Toxo) is a potentially serious, sometimes fatal infection caused by the Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) parasite, one of the most common parasites in the world.1
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider Toxoplasmosis to be one of the five neglected parasitic infections.1 Toxoplasmosis has been targeted by the CDC as a priority for public health action based on the:
- Number of people infected
- Severity of illness
- Ability to prevent and treat it
Though many people are infected with the parasite—over 60 million in the United States—only a small number may experience serious complications.2
Toxoplasmic encephalitis is a serious brain disease.3 This disease can lead to seizures, loss of coordination, coma and/or death.3 Toxoplasmic encephalitis is most common in people who have weakened immune systems.1
Toxoplasmosis can result in serious eye infections and is the most common infection of the retina.4 The damage due to toxoplasmosis in the eye may be irreversible and can progress, resulting in reduced vision and even blindness4. Ocular toxoplasmosis can be acquired or result from congenital exposure to the parasite, and can clinically present at any age.
During maternity, T. gondii can cross the placental barrier and infect the fetus5. This can cause serious complications such as miscarriage and still birth.5 Babies infected with the parasite may present with serious signs and symptoms including birth defects and developmental abnormalities.5
Who is at risk for toxoplasmosis?
People most at risk for serious complications from toxoplasmosis include:1,6
- People living with HIV/AIDS
- Cancer patients
- Transplant recipients
- People with reduced immunity and/or receiving immunosuppressant drugs
- Pregnant women and their fetus
- Babies born to mothers with toxoplasmosis
How do you become infected by T. gondii?2
Humans can be infected by T. gondii in several ways but once a person is infected, they are infected for life.
Humans can be infected by:
- Coming into contact with cat feces that contain the parasite
- Contracting the parasite from infected soil
- Eating or drinking infected food or water
- Using contaminated knives, cutting boards, or other utensils
- Receiving an organ transplant or transfused blood from infected donor
- Passing the parasite from mother to child
Individuals that are at risk and not infected, should take steps to prevent infection.
Centers for Disease Control and PreventionParasites – Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma Infection)
- Recommendations from CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and the HIV Medicine Association of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/contentfiles/lvguidelines/glchunk/glchunk_322.pdf
- Park, et al. Korean J. Parasitol. 2013;51(4):393-9.
- Stillwaggon E, et al. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2011;5(9):e1333.