Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by infection by a parasite (Toxoplasma gondii) which acts in a rather curious way on our metabolism. It is usually transmitted to humans by domestic animals, especially cats, or by ingesting undercooked meat. It is a mild illness for most people, but sometimes it can cause certain flu-like symptoms.
Toxoplasmosis can be dangerous for people with weakened immune systems or for pregnant women, as it can affect the development of the fetus (congenital toxoplasmosis).
How is the disease transmitted?
Although toxoplasmosis cannot be caught from contact with an infected adult or child, the disease can be contracted:
- In contact with cat feces that contain the parasite by handling soil or litter.
- By ingestion of water or contaminated meat (more frequently lamb, pork or game). By contact with knives, boards or kitchen utensils that have touched raw meat.
- By consuming fruits, vegetables or certain unpasteurized products.
- Live or travel in countries with poor sanitary conditions (contaminated water or meat).
- Very rarely, toxoplasmosis can be transmitted through an organ transplant or blood transfusion.
Note that most people infected with the toxoplasmosis parasite have no symptoms. Some people may experience similar effects to the flu or mononucleosis such as:
- Body pain.
- Swollen glands.
- Sore throat (occasionally).
People with weakened immune systems may experience signs of severe infection such as:
- Lack of coordination.
- Convulsive seizures.
- Lung problems that look like tuberculosis or pneumonia.
- Blurred vision, caused by inflammation of the retina.
- Encephalitis (severe infections of the nervous system) which can be fatal.
Anyone can get the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis because it is widespread all over the world.
Pregnant women can transmit the disease to the fetus, which can lead to serious health problems. Note that infections in early pregnancy can also cause miscarriage.
Women who contract toxoplasmosis shortly before or during pregnancy have a 30% risk of infecting their babies, even if they have no symptoms of the disease. The baby is more likely to get the infection if the mother is newly infected in the third trimester than if she is infected in the first trimester.
Moreover, serious consequences for the baby are rarer in the third trimester. Some of them may develop:
- Convulsive seizures.
- An abnormal increase in the liver and spleen (hepato / splenomegaly).
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes caused by an abnormality in the elimination of bilirubin from the liver).
- Severe eye infections (ocular toxoplasmosis).
In the majority of cases, children infected during pregnancy will have no symptoms at birth and during the first year of life. Those who are not treated could develop symptoms of the disease in adolescence or when they are young adults, including:
- Loss of sight or hearing.
- Mental retardation.
- Severe eye infections.
Who are the most vulnerable?
People with weakened immune systems who are at greater risk for serious health problems are:
- People with AIDS / HIV.
- People who are undergoing chemotherapy.
- People who take steroids or immunosuppressive drugs.
- People who have received a transplant.
Well at know: Globally, about a third of the world‘s population is infected with the parasite. In some countries, especially hot and humid ones, it is estimated that up to 95% of the population has already been infected with Toxoplasma gondii.
Many people are already immune to this parasite from having been in contact with the disease before, without noticing the symptoms. A blood test is necessary to detect the presence of antibodies that the body has developed to defend itself against the disease.
In pregnant women, a sample of amniotic fluid during amniocentesis can also detect the presence of antibodies.
In people with AIDS / HIV, because the immune system is too weak to produce antibodies, the presence of encephalitis due to the parasite is detected using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a scan. computed tomography (CT scan).
Infection with toxoplasmosis can have serious consequences in people with weakened immune systems or for the development of the fetus, in pregnant women.
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How to prevent toxoplasmosis?
To avoid this disease, pregnant women should:
- Wear gloves when handling cat litter or gardening as the disease is transmitted through animal feces.
- Wash fruits, vegetables and herbs well.
- Avoid raw or undercooked meat.
- Avoid smoked or marinated meats unless they are well cooked.
- Thoroughly wash knives, boards or utensils in contact with raw meat.
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