Sunday 13 December 2009, 23:23

Toxoplasmosis: how to prevent infection

Preventive and control measures against toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis: how to prevent infection

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by Toxoplasma gondii, one of the most common parasites in the world. Most of the people carrying the Toxoplasma parasite don’t develop any signs or symptoms, thanks to the protective action of the immune system that prevents the parasites to develop, spread within the host tissues and cause illness.

However, toxoplasmosis can have severe consequences in immunosuppressed people and in newly infected pregnant women. Persons with compromised immune system may accuse symptoms such as nausea, fever, headache and seizures.

Pregnant women who become infected during or just before pregnancy can transmit Toxoplasma gondii to their unborn baby (congenital toxoplasmosis), causing a damage to the developing fetus that is more severe the earlier in pregnancy the infection occurs. Possible consequences include abortion, stillbirth and birth of babies with signs of toxoplasmosis. Babies infected just before birth often don’t show any symptoms at birth. However they may develop signs of vision loss and seizures later in life.

As in all diseases, prevention is more effective and less costly than treatment. Since Toxoplasma gondii infections are widely prevalent in humans and other animals worldwide, high-risk persons (immunosuppressed people and pregnant women) should be aware of the routes of transmission and of the control measures that need to be taken in order to prevent infection.

Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted to humans by three principals routes: 1) ingestion of tissue cysts by consumption of raw or undercooked meat from infected animals (pork, lamb, beef and veal); 2) accidental ingestion of oocysts excreted by cats and kittens through feces (for example by cleaning the litter box of an infected cat or by ingesting anything that has come into contact with the feces of an infected cat, such as soil, fruits and vegetables); 3) transmission from mother to child during pregnancy.

Once aware of the possible routes of toxoplasmosis transmission, control and preventive measures have to be taken accordingly. To prevent the risk of toxoplasmosis infection from food, it is important to cook meat completely at safe temperature (higher than 60 °C) and peel or wash vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating.


To prevent the risk of toxoplasmosis infection from the environment it is advisable to do the following: wear gloves when gardening, handling soil or cleaning the cat’s litter box; wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after these activities; change the cat’s litter box daily; keep cats indoor and feed them only commercial or well-cooked foods; avoid drinking untreated water.

Simply through these hygiene and preventive measures, toxoplasmosis infection may be effectively avoided.


By Chiara De Carli

Category: Medical

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