Toxoplasmosis, you may have heard of it. How much do you know about it? It is a disease caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite is found all over the world and an estimated 60 million Americans may already be infected with it and not even know it. The majority of people that are infected with the parasite will not have symptoms. Others, however, may experience flu like symptoms with swollen lymph nodes, and muscle aches and pains that last for a month or more. Severe symptoms resulting from an acute infection are damage to the brain, eyes or other organs.
The people most at risk of developing a true case of Toxoplasmosis are those with weakened or immature immune systems, such as the elderly, people with AIDS and infants whose mothers were infected with the parasite during or just before pregnancy. There are a few potential risk factors to contracting the toxoplasma parasite, the most common of which include eating raw or undercooked meats (especially pork, lamb, and venison) and accidental ingestion of feces containing the parasite. This is where the household cat comes in. They can shed the parasite in their feces for weeks if they become infected with it. Cats can get the parasite most commonly from walking around outside on infected soil or eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals. If they then use a litterbox that you clean, you become exposed to the parasite. This is why it is very important and mostly well known that women should not clean litterboxes while pregnant.
If you are already pregnant and think you might have the parasite, talk to your doctor. They may advise performing blood tests to confirm this. In most cases, treatment is not necessary as a healthy immune system will suppress an infection in people and pets, but talk to your doctor and your veterinarian. Please speak with a doctor or veterinarian before taking steps to treat hookworms in your pet or yourself.