Toxoplasmosis

1 What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis occurs as a result of infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii.

Toxoplasmosis causes flu like symptoms in some people but the other remain asymptomatic. It is a serious condition and causes severe complications for infants born to infected mothers and people with weakened immune system.

Generally, a health person doesn’t require any treatment. Pregnant women and people with low immunity require certain medications to reduce severity of symptoms.

2 Symptoms

Toxoplasmosis causes flu like symptoms in some people but the other remain asymptomatic.

Healthy individuals show signs and symptoms of flu which include: body-aches, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, fever and fatigue.

People with compromised immune system in case of AIDS/HIV, chemotherapy or organ transplant show the following symptoms:

  • headache
  • confusion
  • poor coordination
  • seizures
  • lung problems that resemble tuberculosis and blurred vision caused by severe inflammation in the retina

In infants who are born to infected mother, the following symptoms prevail: seizures, enlarged liver, enlarged spleen, jaundice and severe eye infections. Signs and symptoms are seen only when such infants reach to their teens or later.

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3 Causes

Toxoplasmosis occurs as a result of infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii.

Toxoplasma gondii is a single celled parasitic organism commonly infecting animals and birds. When the person is infected with T. gondii, parasite forms cysts affecting brain, heart and muscles.

These parasites remain the body in inactive state improving the immune system, but if due to some illness the immunity decreases, then parasitic invasion can take place.

A person can become infected if: a person comes in contact with cat feces that contains parasite, eats or drinks contaminated food or water, uses contaminated knives or cutting boards, eats unwashed fruits or vegetables and receives an infected organ transplant or transfused blood.

A person is unlikely to contract infection directly from another person.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Without specific screening tests, toxoplasmosis is often difficult to diagnose since signs and symptoms are similar to flu. If the doctor suspects toxoplasmosis in a pregnant woman, then blood test is done to check for antibodies to the parasite.

Positive tests could mean active infection or previous infection and negative test means the person hasn’t been infected at all. Additional tests may be required in case of positive test which is especially important in pregnant woman or people with HIV/AIDS.

It is also very important to test the baby for toxoplasmosis: Amniocentesis (tests are performed on the fluid in the amniotic sac) or Ultrasound scan (this can show certain signs like fluid buildup in the brain of the fetus).

In case of severe cases of toxoplasmosis, MRI which uses electromagnetic waves to create cross-sectional images of head and brain and brain biopsy in which the neurosurgeon may take a small sample of brain tissue to be analyzed in those cases when toxoplasmosis is not responding to any treatment methods.

5 Treatment

Mostly treatment for taxoplasmosis is not required in healthy individuals but if diagnosed then the following drugs are prescribed:

  • Pyrimethamine and Sulfadiazine can kill the parasite.
  • While treating people with HIV/AIDS, anthelmintic drugs with folic acid along with antibiotic.
  • While treating pregnant women and babies, Cipromycin is used to reduce the risk of neurological problems.
  • For pregnant mother, diagnosed with toxoplasmosis, doctor may suggest treatment with Pyrithiamine and Sulfadiazine. These drugs are used only in extreme circumstances due to their toxic effects.

6 Prevention

The following preventive measures must be taken for toxoplasmosis:

  • wearing gloves while working in the garden,
  • washing hands with soap water,
  • eating proper cooked food especially meat should be cooked properly,
  • washing kitchen utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat,
  • wash all fruits and vegetables using a scrubber and drink pasteurized milk.

In case a person has a cat as a pet then: keeping cats indoor and feeding it dry or canned cat food, not raw meat, washing hands after playing with the cat and using gloves while cleaning the dirt of cat.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Some of following home remedies can improve the symptoms of toxoplasmosis:

  • Radish- anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties of radish can be used to reduce the symptoms. Radish has high affinity towards the parasite and can kill it.
  • Garlic- anti-microbial, anti-oxidant properties of garlic can be used to reduce the symptoms. Garlic can be eaten raw or can be used while cooking food. Papaya- papaya has enzymes which can destroy the worms in the GIT.
  • Carrot- Carrots are known to have properties required to kill parasites and worms.

8 Risks and Complications

A person is at serious risk of contracting toxoplasmosis if he or she:

  • has HIV/AIDS (AIDS weakens the immune system),
  • is undergoing chemotherapy (this also affects the immune system),
  • is taking steroids or other immunosuppressant drugs (decreases formation of immune cells),
  • if a woman is pregnant.

A healthy person is unlikely to experience any complication. Untreated cases may lead to blindness. In case a person has weak immune system, toxoplasmosis may lead to life-threatening conditions like encephalitis which can be fatal. 

Children with congenital toxoplasmosis may develop hearing loss, mental disabilities and blindness.

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