What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasmagondii. In most cases, human infection occurs through ingestion of the infectious organism. The majority of those infected have no symptoms, but the disease can cause serious problems, especially for those on immunosuppressants and pregnant women. If symptoms develop, they are very similar to flu.

Example of such signs are swollen lymph nodes, fever, muscle aches and general malaise.

Less severe infections can lead to eye problems, brain infections, seizures and, in extremely rare cases, even death. Many people develop infections from eating contaminated meat or accidentally ingesting dog or cat feces.

What are the symptoms?

In about 80-90% of cases, the disease is asymptomatic. And those who do develop symptoms resolve within weeks or months without treatment. But the infectious organism remains in the body in a latent state and can be activated if the infected person starts immunosuppressants. For example, AIDS patients can develop lesions in the brain due to the reactivation of the single-celled parasite.

In chemotherapy patients, the emergence of Toxoplasmagondii from the latent state can affect the eyes, heart, lung or brain. Congenital toxoplasma infections can cause serious damage to the eyes, ears and brain at birth.

However, congenital infections may not manifest for the first few years of life or even until the child’s second or third decade of life. Then symptoms of damage to: the eyes /reduced vision or blindness/, the ears /partial or complete loss of hearing/, the brain /seizures, changes in the mental state/ develop suddenly.

Toxoplasmosis is the leading cause of retinochoroiditis /inflammation of the retina and choroid of the eye / in the European Union.

What are the causes?

Toxoplasmagondiiis a protozoan parasite that can infect most species of warm-blooded animals such as cats, pigs, sheep and humans and causes the disease toxoplasmosis. The only known host for the parasite that allows it to complete its life cycle is the cat. These are domestic cats and their other relatives of the Felidae family.

People usually become infected by ingesting meat, other food or water contaminated with the parasite. The infection can be transmitted by blood transfusion from an infected person, also by transplanting organs from infected people or from an infected mother to the fetus.

The disease can be acquired by direct ingestion of cat faeces, which can happen inadvertently when cleaning, for example, the cat litter box.

When petting an infected cat, the probability of infection is negligible, because the cat regularly cleans the fur by disinfecting it, when scratching and biting the probability is also very small.

Treatment of toxoplasmosis

The disease is treated with medication. There are several drugs that are used in combination to treat an infection with this parasite. These are three medications that are used in combination, including for HIV positives – pyrimethamine, sulfadiazine and folinic acid. In addition to these 3 drugs, pregnant women are treated with spiramycin and leucovorin. Those infected with the HIV virus usually need lifelong therapy.

Other medications that are sometimes used are clindamycin, azithromycin, or atovaquone. These drugs are mainly used when the affected person is allergic to pyrimethamine or sulfadiazine. But pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine can cause significant side effects, especially for the fetus in pregnant women.

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