Toxoplasmosis – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. This can be found in cat litter and cooking undercooked meat, especially deer, lamb and pork. This parasite can also be transmitted through contaminated water. Toxoplasmosis can be deadly or cause serious birth defects for the fetus if the mother is infected. This is why doctors recommend that pregnant women not take or clean cat litter boxes.

Causes of Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasma gondii parasites cause toxoplasma. This parasite attacks most species of warm-blooded living things (for example, cats, pigs, sheep, and humans) and causes toxoplasmosis. Host animals that allow parasites to complete their life cycle are cats (domestic cats and other cat relationships in the Felidae family).

Although humans cannot get toxo from an infected child or adult, you can become infected if:

1. Contact with cat feces containing parasites

You can accidentally swallow parasites if you touch your mouth after gardening, clean litter boxes, or touch anything that comes in contact with infected cat feces. Cats that hunt or are fed raw meat will most likely contain T. gondii.

2. Consuming contaminated food or drinks

Sheep, pork and venison are most likely infected by T. gondii. Sometimes, unpasteurized dairy products also contain parasites. Water contaminated by T. gondii.

3. Using a knife, cutting board or other contaminated equipment

Kitchen appliances that come into contact with raw meat can protect parasites unless they are thoroughly washed in hot, soapy water.

4. Eat fruits and vegetables that are not washed

The surface of fruits and vegetables may contain parasites. To be safe, wash thoroughly and peel all products, especially those you eat raw.

5. Transplantation of an infected organ or blood transfusion

In rare cases, toxoplasmosis can be transmitted through organ transplants or blood transfusions.

When someone is infected with T. gondii, the parasite forms a cyst that can affect almost all parts of the body – often the brain and muscle tissue of different organs, including the heart.

If you are generally healthy, your immune system controls parasites. They remain in the body in an inactive state, giving you lifelong immunity so they cannot be infected with parasites anymore. But if your immune system is weakened by certain diseases or drugs, the infection can be reactivated, which causes serious complications.

Risk Factors for Toxoplasmosis

Anyone at risk of becoming infected with toxo. Toxoplasma gondii parasites can be found throughout the world. You are at risk of experiencing serious health problems due to toxoplasmosis infection if:

  • You have HIV/AIDS. Many people with HIV/AIDS also have toxoplasmosis, either a recent infection or an old infection that has been reactivated.
  • You are undergoing chemotherapy. Chemotherapy affects the immune system, making it difficult for the body to fight even mild infections.
  • You use steroids or other immunosuppressant drugs. Medications used to treat certain non-malignant conditions suppress the immune system and make you more likely to experience complications from toxoplasmosis.

Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis

Most people infected with Toxoplasma show no symptoms. Symptoms of toxoplasma are usually in the form of swollen lymph nodes of the neck and flu symptoms that subside in a few weeks or months without treatment. Parasitic organisms remain in the body in a latent state and may reactivate if the person becomes immunocompromised (decreased immunity).

For example, patients with AIDS may develop a lesion in the brain due to reactivation of Toxoplasma. Chemotherapy patients can experience involvement of organs such as the eyes, heart (myocarditis), lungs or brain involvement when the parasite becomes active again.

Congenital toxoplasmosis can cause severe damage to the eyes, ears, and brain damage at birth. However, congenital infections may be asymptomatic (asymptomatic) until the first few years of life or even until the second or third decade and then the eyes show decreased vision or blindness, or in the ear of hearing loss, or symptoms of brain damage (toxoencephalitis, seizures, changes in mental status) . Toxoplasmosis is the main cause of chorioretinitis (inflammation of the retina and choroid of the eye) as in the United States.

Toxo encephalitis is a disease caused by the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. The disease seems to occur almost exclusively due to reactivation of latent tissue cysts. 1-4 Primary infection is sometimes associated with acute or disseminated cerebral disease.

Toxoplasmosis treatment

Because most people do not experience symptoms of toxoplasma when exposed to toxoplasmosis, infected individuals rarely seek medical treatment. However, people who have swollen lymph nodes and have flu-like symptoms should consider seeking medical treatment for toxoplasmosis if they have known or suspected contact with contaminated cats or cat food.

If women who are planning a pregnancy or are pregnant experience these symptoms, they should seek medical care. Immunocompromised individuals, especially those with HIV infection, must also seek medical care if the symptoms mentioned above occur or if they experience symptoms in the eye or mental status changes.

Follow up for toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis can be treated medically. There are several combination drugs to treat infections by this parasite. Even so, the individual circumstances of each patient determine the optimal combination of drugs, dosage and duration. For example, patients who are pregnant or with HIV/AIDS need special consideration and treatment. The best way to determine individual medical care based on the patient’s health situation and consultation with a specialist.

Patients who have been diagnosed with toxoplasmosis need follow-up with the doctor who treats them. People with mild infections may need a little follow up if no medical treatment is needed. However, pregnant women and infants need follow-up to determine whether additional toxoplasmosis treatment is needed.

Immunocompromised patients, especially HIV patients, require lifetime treatment and further evaluation. People who are known to have had toxoplasmosis in the past and who have become immunocompromised (for example, people with HIV, cancer patients or chemotherapy) need to inform their healthcare provider about the infection they are experiencing. These people require follow-up with antitoxoplasma therapy. Discuss with your doctor about the right treatment for toxoplasmosis for each individual.

Diagnosis

Most infected people will not have any physical symptoms that can be found, but on physical examination, some will have an enlarged neck lymph node (the most common physical finding), or an enlarged spleen or liver.

Medium to severe infections can occur (especially infants) or increase due to liver involvement, eye problems (decreased vision or blindness), meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and brain lining), seizures, pneumonitis, and changes in mental status. Unfortunately, many other diseases can cause the same mild and severe symptoms as toxoplasmosis (for example, Chagas’ disease, giardiasis, malaria, brain abscesses, sepsis, cytomegalovirus, and many others).

Fortunately, there are a number of tests that can help differentiate toxoplasmosis from other diseases and provide evidence for a suspected or definitive diagnosis. The definitive diagnosis of toxoplasmosis is made by the presence of Toxoplasma gondii organisms in the blood, body fluids (for example, spinal fluid or membranes), or tissue (biopsy samples).

Other tests can produce a suspected diagnosis and are based on a person’s immune response to the parasite. Body fluids can be tested by PCR and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay technique that can indicate acute infection. Another test, the Sabin-Feldman test, measures a patient’s IgG antibodies aimed at parasites and is the standard reference test for toxoplasmosis.

IgG antibodies indicate that a toxoplasmosis infection has occurred in the past, but it does not say whether the current infection is due to T. Gondii, so it only concluded that the person had “been infected with T. gondii.” Other tests detect IgM antibodies aimed at parasites and can detect these antibodies in the first week of infection, so you can say that the current infection is due to T. gondii.

Meanwhile, the timing of the test is important because it is an interpretation of the results. Incorrect diagnosis can occur when a person has a positive toxoplasmosis test result because of another disease that causes similar symptoms.

Prognosis Toxoplasmosis

Most people who get toxoplasmosis will have excellent results without significant short-term or long-term problems. However, an infected fetus or baby has a poor prognosis, depending on when the fetus is infected, how quickly the disease progresses, diagnosis, and response to treatment.

Prognosis usually worsens if the fetus is infected in the first trimester. This can cause the fetus to die or experience severe physical and mental problems at birth. Immunocompromised individuals have a poor prognosis, depending on how quickly the diagnosis is made and treatment response.

Prevention of Toxoplasmosis

Prevention of toxoplasmosis centers on avoiding parasites. The following are things suggested by health experts to prevent or reduce the chance of getting toxoplasmosis:

  • Cook all meat thoroughly cooked (freezing meat for several days can also reduce the possibility of swallowing toxoplasma).
  • Carefully wash hands and utensils after handling raw meat.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Don’t drink unpasteurized milk or drink water that is not filtered properly.
  • If you have cats, give them commercially-available foods such as cat food products or cooked foods.
  • If you want to treat cats, be sure to get the toxoplasmosis vaccination.
  • Pregnant women should wear gloves when gardening.

To note, pregnant women infected with toxoplasmosis can infect their fetuses. Immediately do treatment to reduce the possibility of infecting the fetus. Donor organs and blood infected with Toxoplasma can also transmit parasites to donor recipients.

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