Human exposure to toxoplasmosis is common wherever cats are found. About 20 to 40% of healthy adults in the US are sero-positive, these are people who are evidently found infected but have no symptoms. The health consequence of toxoplasmosis is actually small, but it may be fatal for the unborn or people with a low immune system.
Toxoplasmosis is infection with Toxoplasma gondii, a ubiquitous parasite in birds and mammals. It will persist in its non active form, cyst, and stay in the brain and muscles. Sexual reproduction of T. gondii occurs only in the intestinal tract of cats; the resultant egg cells will be passed in the cat feces and remain infectious in moist soil for months.
People can get infected from:
- Fecal oral transmission. This usually happens when cat owners handles their cat or clean their feces and don’t wash their hands properly.
- Eating undercooked meat containing the toxoplasma cyst which are dormant in the muscle tissue, most commonly lamb, pork, or rarely beef.
- Transplanted transmission from a pregnant mother to their unborn child.
- From a blood transfusion.
The sign and symptoms:
Healthy people who are infected usually do not have any symptoms. Symptomatic infections may present in several ways:
Flu-like symptoms i.e. lymph node swelling, fever, feeling weak, muscle ache and less commonly sore throat. The syndrome may persist for weeks to months, but is almost always self-limited.
Severe Disseminated Toxoplasmosis
This toxoplasmosis infection is usually possible in immunocompromised patients, i.e. AIDS. About 30 to 40% are reactivation from latent toxoplasmosis. Due to a very low immunity, these patients may get toxoplasmosis infection in any organ of the body, most commonly the brain, heart, lungs and testicles. It may evolve to a fatal condition.
These results from a primary acute infection acquire by the mother during pregnancy. Women infected before conception ordinarily do not transmit toxoplasmosis to the fetus unless the infection is reactivated during pregnancy by immunosuppressant. The pregnant women have a higher possibility of abortion and stillbirth. If the infection is acquired early in pregnancy, the fetus is at higher risk for abortion, and organs affected include the eyes and brain, causing psychomotor retardation. If it is acquired during the 3rd trimester, the child may appear healthy at birth but are at high risk of seizures, mental retardation, retinal involvement or other symptoms developing months or even years later.
Usually is a result from congenital infection that is reactivated, often in the teens and 20’s, but it can occur with acquired infections. The infected part is the retina and choroid which may lead to blindness.
Diagnosis is made from a blood test, called serology test. This doesn’t directly detect the presence of the parasite, but will detect the antibody produced by the human body that is specifically for the Toxoplasma parasite.
Treatment is with antibiotics which may take weeks.
Most importantly is prevention:
- Wash hands properly before handling food.
- Avoid eating uncooked meat especially lamb and pork.
Do a toxoplasmosis screening before pregnancy and get treated if you are positive.