Toxoplasmosis is a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans. This so-called zoonosis is relatively harmless for the host (human) as long as he is not either suffering from HIV or is pregnant.
What is toxoplasmosis?
People with a poorly functioning immune system (such as those caused by HIV) contract this disease, which is caused by small parasites, and babies in the womb can be severely damaged by toxoplasmosis. For slang testicular inflammation, please visit electronicsencyclopedia.com.
The causative agent of the infectious disease toxoplasmosis is the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. These small, in technical jargon dubbed “protozoa”, preferentially affect cats, with the animals rarely being seriously harmed. The only effect for the cats during their initial infection is diarrhea, coupled with the massive excretion of eggs (oocysts). In this way, the parasite spreads and finds a new host—the cycle of toxoplasmosis begins again.
The causes of infections with Toxoplasma gondii, i.e. the development of toxoplasmosis, are based on different infection cycles. There are three causes in total: Firstly, the infection from definitive host to definitive host. This means that a cat infects another cat through excreted eggs in the faeces. The protozoa are released through digestion in the intestine, migrate through the intestinal wall, enter the blood and migrate to organs and tissue.
Next, the parasites multiply in the cells of the body and are again shed in the cat’s stool — there can be up to a million cysts per gram of stool, which is an important route of transmission for humans.
In the so-called “final host-intermediate host cycle”, cats become infected through contaminated rodent meat (e.g. from mice or rats). Infections from eating contaminated meat or transmission through the mother’s placenta to the fetus affect the “intermediate host-intermediate host cycles” in toxoplasmosis.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
In a healthy organism, the infection causes little or no symptoms, so that it often goes unnoticed. Sometimes there are general signs of illness, similar to those of the flu. Then there is fatigue, exhaustion and fever. Diarrhea and aching muscles are also possible. The lymph nodes in the neck may swell.
In exceptional cases, the brain and eyes are also affected in healthy people. Equally rare is inflammation of the pericardium, lungs and liver. However, if the immune system is weakened, such as in people with a transplanted organ or in HIV patients, the infection causes much more severe symptoms.
Inflammation of the connective tissue layer in the lungs often occurs, leading to tissue changes. The consequences are fever, shortness of breath and a dry cough. In addition, the brain is severely affected. Depending on which region of the brain is affected by the infection, neurological deficits and limitations arise.
Seizures and hemi-paralysis can occur. Painful eyes and visual disturbances, such as visual field defects, increased sensitivity to light and blurred vision are also possible. If the infection continues to spread, it can damage multiple organs. Toxoplasmosis is particularly dangerous during pregnancy, as the pathogens can be passed on to the child and cause serious damage or even abortion.
Diagnosis & History
For the indirect detection of toxoplasmosis that has already occurred, the doctor’s assistant takes blood from the patient, which is examined in the laboratory for antibodies against the pathogen. Toxoplasmosis in pregnant women is problematic because the mother’s initial infection with the parasite can cause serious damage to the unborn child.
The later the stage of pregnancy, the more dangerous the mother’s toxoplasmosis becomes for the fetus. Infected children can have severe cognitive impairment and damage to their eyes and organs such as the liver or lungs. A quarter of babies infected with toxoplasmosis in the womb are born mentally retarded and have difficulties with epilepsy and spasticity.
It is all the more problematic that the costs for the examination of pregnant women are not covered by the statutory health insurance companies. So-called “immune suppressed” patients (those affected by HIV or patients after a stem cell transplant) show a particularly serious clinical picture, the so-called “cerebral toxoplasmosis”, which is characterized by neurological deficits.
Toxoplasmosis can cause complications only in pregnant women and in the case of a weakened immune system. The disease, which is usually asymptomatic, sometimes leads to symptoms in those affected that require treatment, such as inflammation of the heart muscle, lungs or brain.
However, the most serious complication associated with toxoplasmosis is infection of the unborn child by the pathogen. This happens in about half of all cases if the mother is infected with the pathogen. It is then relevant how early or late the unborn child was infected. Children who are infected at an early age always have health problems when they are born. There is a wide variety of symptoms.
Underweight and damage to the eye tissue are particularly common. About a quarter of the infected premature babies and an eighth of the children who have matured in the womb die as a result of the infection. About half of the affected children have motor and mental development disorders.
In cases in which the fetus was infected later, late damage usually only occurs during the course of development. Blindness often occurs as a result of eye damage. But mental disabilities are also possible as a result of a damaged brain. For healthy, non-pregnant people, toxoplasmosis has practically no risk of complications.
When should you go to the doctor?
Toxoplasmosis is symptom-free in most cases. In people with pre-existing conditions, flu-like symptoms such as fever, tiredness and headaches and body aches can occur. A doctor’s visit is necessary if noticeable symptoms appear that affect well-being. Then the family doctor must be consulted. Severe symptoms such as fever and exhaustion require a specialist diagnosis. Loss of balance, symptoms of paralysis and seizures must also be examined by a doctor. Toxoplasmosis is caused by infection with a bacterial pathogen.
If the symptoms occur in connection with the consumption of raw or poorly cooked meat, medical advice is required. Contact with infected cats and forest animals can also cause the disease. If there is a concrete suspicion, the doctor should be consulted. Toxoplasmosis is treated by an internist. In severe cases, inpatient treatment in a hospital is indicated. People who have fallen ill should use regular medical follow-ups to ensure that the disease has not broken out again. Due to the relatively long incubation period of several weeks, regular medical check-ups are necessary.
Treatment & Therapy
In contrast to other infectious diseases such as rubella or cytomegalovirus disease, toxoplasmosis can certainly be treated during pregnancy. The earlier this is started, the better the prognosis for the baby.
Treatment differs depending on the week of pregnancy. Spiramycin is the drug of choice up to the 16th week of pregnancy; after this point in time, administration of a combination of several drugs (sulfadiazine, folinic acid and pyrimethamine) over a longer period (4 weeks) is indicated. In patients with a weakened immune system, the doctor also treats them with a combination of the drugs sulfadiazine, folinic acid and pyrimethamine over the same period of time.
There is a correlation between the occurrence of toxoplasmosis in these patients and the T-helper cell count in the blood. If the number of helper cells falls below 200/µl, prophylaxis with cotrimoxazole three times a week is sufficient to avoid the disease caused by toxoplasmosis.
Toxoplasmosis is a serious risk, especially for pregnant women and their babies. To avoid contamination with the pathogen, precautionary measures are essential. All sausage products made from raw meat such as raw ham or tea sausage can contain cysts, as can naturally raw meat.
Therefore, you should avoid eating these foods. Of course, no pregnant woman should clean the litter box. Be careful with small cats, they are more likely to be primarily infected with toxoplasmosis than adults. Washing hands after cuddling is mandatory here to prevent infection with toxoplasmosis. Fortunately, the woman completely refrains from contact and dealing with cats at the beginning of the pregnancy.
Follow-up care for toxoplasmosis is usually limited to a few check-ups after the infection has been overcome, provided the patient has no complicating features. Toxoplasmosis in healthy people often goes largely unnoticed after infection and heals on its own. The main complications are infection during pregnancy and in immunosuppressive patients.
Follow-up care in the event of a complication or an unusually severe course is essential. In a pregnancy, after the acute treatment, it must be ensured that the unborn child has not suffered any damage from the infection. There is also a risk of miscarriage or premature birth and this must be strictly controlled by the relevant specialists.
Generally healthy patients do not require further treatment. Depending on the doctor’s assessment of the need for antibiotics, follow-up care can also focus on the direct consequences of antibiotic therapy. Basically, it can be said that the patient’s general condition or aggravating treatment circumstances must be looked at in order to design the aftercare in a patient-related manner.
Since the infection is often caused by cats, the source of the infection should be identified and it should be ensured during the aftercare period at the latest that no further infections can occur. However, once an infection has been overcome, immunity can be assumed as a result.
You can do that yourself
Toxoplasmosis infection is usually treated therapeutically. The patient is prescribed, among other things, the active ingredients spiramycin or sulfadiazine, which should quickly relieve the symptoms.
In addition, hygiene measures apply. Pregnant women in particular should take good care of their personal hygiene and change their diet accordingly. For example, raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Pork, poultry and lamb in particular should be avoided. Vegetables and fruit must be washed thoroughly before consumption or further processing. In any case, regular hand washing is recommended. This is especially true after gardening or visiting a playground. Wearing gloves is recommended when gardening. Cat owners should switch from fresh meat to canned food and clean the litter box with hot water daily. Otherwise, the dangerous pathogen may be transmitted.
Proven toxoplasmosis home remedies include coconut oil, sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar, in particular, helps with various symptoms of the condition. Sugar and coconut oil deprive the parasites of their breeding ground. In consultation with a homeopath, medicinal herbs and medicinal plants such as wormwood or Bunias orientalis can also be tried. The information brochure of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment contains further information on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of toxoplasmosis.