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Potential Risks of Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is an infectious parasitic disease caused by an extremely common parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The CDC estimates an astonishing 60 million human cases of toxoplasmosis in America. It is often transferred to humans through contact with cat feces or contaminated meat, water or surfaces. Most people won’t display many symptoms, but the infection could be dangerous to certain population demographics, especially unborn children.

Potential Symptoms

Toxoplasmosis is generally asymptomatic in most healthy people, but some will develop flu-like symptoms such as:

  • Aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes
  • Severe toxoplasmosis can affect the organs or damage the eyes

Toxoplasmosis and The Immunocompromised

The immunocompromised portion of the population (those with HIV/AIDs or cancer for example) may be hit harder by a toxoplasmosis infection, displaying some of the above symptoms and requiring treatment. The Mayo Clinic advises people who fall under the immunocompromised category to watch out for reactivation of a previous toxoplasmosis infection as well. In this case, they may experience such symptoms as: confusion, seizures, poor coordination or lung problems. Seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing these symptoms while undergoing chemotherapy, or after having had an organ transplant or if you have another immunocompromising condition.

The Risks of Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy

Pregnant women who contract this disease may not show many signs themselves aside from mysterious fatigue, but transference of toxoplasmosis from a pregnant woman to her fetus is perhaps the most dangerous facet of the disease. Research suggests about 1 in 200 pregnant women will contract toxoplasmosis. Women who contract toxoplasmosis directly before or during the first few weeks of pregnancy could potentially face a miscarriage or stillbirth, however, these complications are rare. Toxoplasmosis more often affects the baby when it is contracted in the later stages of pregnancy, but the effects will likely less dire. The main complication being that you may pass on congenital toxoplasmosis to your baby which may result in such symptoms as:

  • Eye inflammation or damage
  • Feeding problems
  • Enlarged organs
  • Skin rash
  • Low birth weight
  • Hearing loss

How Can Pregnant Women Avoid Toxoplasmosis Complications?

Prevention is the best way to ensure your pregnancy or baby will not be affected by toxoplasmosis. Such measures include:

  • Not coming in close contact with cats (they are the main culprits for spreading the disease), or at the very least avoid changing cat litter and only play with clean cats
  • Cook meat to the correct temperatures and avoid drinking untreated tap water
  • Clean cooking surfaces vigorously to avoid cross contamination with uncooked meat

It is important to get tested for this parasite if you wish to become pregnant or have just learned you are pregnant. If you do contract toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, however, don’t panic. There is treatment available especially if it is caught early. Talk to your doctor today if you are concerned about this risk.

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