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Toxoplasmosis (Toxo)

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Toxoplasmosis facts

  • Toxoplasmosis (toxo) is a disease caused by a parasite.
  • Toxo is acquired from contact with cats and their feces.
  • Toxo is also acquired from eating or touching raw or partly cooked meat.
  • Toxoplasmosis symptoms can range from none to very severe.
  • A woman who contracts toxo right before or during pregnancy can transmit it to her baby with catastrophic consequences.
  • People with immune deficiencies are at high risk for developing severe signs and symptoms of toxo.

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The infection is most commonly acquired from contact with cats and their feces or with raw or undercooked meat.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 60 million people in the United States may carry the Toxoplasma parasite, but very few have symptoms because a healthy immune system usually keeps the parasite from causing illness.

What is the cause of toxoplasmosis?

There are only a few ways to acquire the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis:

  • Contact with cats or cat feces
  • Eating raw or undercooked meat
  • Drinking raw milk from an infected goat (Goats can be an intermediate host for the parasite.)
  • Organ transplantation or blood transfusion from an infected person

What factors increase the risk of acquiring toxo?

The following situations potentially expose a person to the Toxoplasma parasite and increase the risk of acquiring toxoplasmosis:

  • Touching your hands to your mouth after gardening, cleaning a cat's litter box, or anything that came into contact with cat feces
  • Eating raw or partly cooked meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison
  • Using utensils or cutting boards that have not been properly cleaned after they have had contact with raw meat
  • Drinking raw goat's milk
  • Touching your hands to your mouth after contact with raw or undercooked meat
  • Organ transplantation or transfusion (this is rare)

If a woman is pregnant when she is infected with toxo, the infection can be transmitted to the baby with sometimes catastrophic consequences.


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