Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a tiny organism called a protozoon. Many people are infected with this protozoon. However, few people have any symptoms or problems from it.
Toxoplasmosis is passed from animals to humans. People can contract it by:
A pregnant woman who gets toxoplasmosis for the first time may pass it to her unborn child. Active infection usually occurs one time in a person’s life, although the protozoon remains inactive in the body. Generally, if a woman has become immune to the infection before getting pregnant, she will not pass the condition to her baby.
Factors that increase your chance of getting toxoplasmosis include:
Most people do not have symptoms. Those who do have symptoms may have:
People with weakened immune systems may have toxoplasmosis infections in multiple organs. Infection is most common in the brain (encephalitis), eyes ( chorioretinitis), and lungs (pneumonitis). Symptoms may include:
In babies, the severity of symptoms depends on when the mother became infected during pregnancy. If infection occurs during the first three months of pregnancy, babies are less likely to become infected. But if they do, then their symptoms are much more severe. During the last six months, babies are more likely to become infected. But, their symptoms are less serious. Toxoplasmosis can also cause miscarriage or stillbirth.
About one in 10 babies born with toxoplasmosis has severe symptoms. These include:
Many babies infected with toxoplasmosis may seem healthy at birth. But they may develop problems months or years later. These include:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests are done to look for antibodies produced by the body to fight the toxoplasmosis. Other lab tests are done to look for the protozoa itself.
People who are healthy and not pregnant do not need treatment if symptoms are mild. Symptoms usually go away within a few weeks to months. People with a weakened immune system are treated with antitoxoplasmosis medicines for several months.
If a pregnant woman is infected but the fetus is not, the mother is usually given an antibiotic. It can decrease the chance of the fetus becoming infected.
Fetuses with confirmed toxoplasmosis infections are treated by giving the mother a combination of three medications:
These drugs can reduce the severity of, but not eliminate, a newborn's symptoms. After the baby is born, he or she will be given different combinations of medicines.
Women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should talk to their physician about taking a blood test. It will help determine if they are immune to toxoplasmosis (which would be a sign of a prior exposure). If they are not, they should take the following steps to avoid sources of toxoplasmosis:
These steps also apply to people with weakened immune systems.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Women's Health Matters
Parasites—toxoplasmosis (toxoplasma infection). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis. Updated February 1, 2012. Accessed January 13, 2013.
Perinatal viral and parasitic infections. ACOG Practice Bulletin. 2000. No. 20. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org.
Toxoplasmosis. Nemours KidsHealth.org website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/parasitic/toxoplasmosis.html. Updated September 2011. Accessed January 7, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.