Toxoplasmosis

Pronounced tok-so-plaz-MOE-sis

Toxoplasmosis is a common infection that usually occurs by eating infected meat or by exposure to the faeces (poo) of infected cats. It is usually harmless but can cause serious problems if you are pregnant or have a weak immune system.

Key points

  1. Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, one of the world's most common parasites.
  2. It can cause serious problems for babies born to infected mothers and people with a weakened immune system.
  3. Toxoplasmosis may cause flu-like symptoms but most people affected do not develop any symptoms so don’t realise they have it.
  4. Toxoplasmosis infection can be detected by a blood test.
  5. If you are diagnosed with toxoplasmosis and you are pregnant or have lowered immunity you will be prescribed medicine. 

Who is most at risk of toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is normally harmless but in rare cases it can cause serious problems. Your risk is increased if:

  • you get infected when you are pregnant – toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage. If it spreads to your baby it can cause serious complications, especially if you catch it early in pregnancy. Read more about toxoplasmosis in pregnancy.
  • your immune system is weakened – for example, if you have HIV, have recently had an organ transplant or you are having chemotherapy

How do I know if I have toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis doesn’t normally cause symptoms and most people won’t know they have had it. Some people get flu-like symptoms, which normally get better on their own within about 6 days. Symptoms are more common and more severe in people with weakened immune systems. In these cases, symptoms may include confusion, seizures, poor coordination, blurred vision and lung pain.

If you have a weakened immune system, or are pregnant, and think you may be infected by toxoplasmosis, see your doctor. Toxoplasmosis can be diagnosed through a blood test. Your doctor can prescribe medicines to treat the infection if necessary.

Once you have had toxoplasmosis you are normally immune for the rest of your life. 

How is toxoplasmosis treated?

If you think you may have been exposed to toxoplasmosis infection and you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, see your doctor. They will take a blood test to check for infection. If the laboratory results confirm infection, your doctor will usually recommend treatment with one or more medications. 

Read more about treating toxoplasmosis in pregnancy.

How can I prevent getting toxoplasmosis?

The parasite that causes toxoplasmosis is found in infected meat and in the faeces (poo) of infected cats. It can also be present in soil contaminated by infected cat poo.

If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system:

  • don’t eat raw or undercooked meat, or cured meats, such as salami or ham
  • don’t have unpasteurised milk or any products made from it
  • wear gloves while emptying cat litter trays and empty them every day (the Toxoplasma parasite does not become infectious until 1 to 5 days after it is shed in a cat’s poo).
  • wear gloves while gardening
  • wash your hands before preparing food and eating
  • wash hands, knives and chopping boards thoroughly after preparing raw meat
  • wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly to get rid of any traces of soil
  • cover children’s sandboxes. 

Learn more

Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy Health Navigator, NZ, 2018
Toxoplasmosis NHS Choices, UK, 2017

References 

  1. Toxoplasmosis Mayo Clinic, US
  2. Toxoplasmosis Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US, 2017
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Jeremy Tuohy, Researcher & Clinician, University of Auckland