Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii, an apicomplexan. Infections with toxoplasmosis are associated with a variety of neuropsychiatric and behavioral conditions. Occasionally, people may have a few weeks or months of mild, flu-like illness such as muscle aches and tender lymph nodes. In a small number of people, eye problems may develop. In those with a weak immune system, severe symptoms such as seizures and poor coordination may occur. If a person becomes infected during pregnancy, a condition known as congenital toxoplasmosis may affect the child.
Toxoplasmosis is usually spread by eating poorly cooked food that contains cysts, exposure to infected cat feces, and from an infected woman to their baby during pregnancy. Rarely, the disease may be spread by blood transfusion. It is not otherwise spread between people. The parasite is known to reproduce sexually only in the cat family. However, it can infect most types of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Diagnosis is typically by testing blood for antibodies or by testing the amniotic fluid in pregnant women for the parasite's DNA.
Prevention is by properly preparing and cooking food. Pregnant women are also recommended not to clean cat litter boxes or, if they must, to wear gloves and wash their hands afterwards. Treatment of otherwise healthy people is usually not needed. During pregnancy, spiramycin or pyrimethamine/sulfadiazine and folinic acid may be used for treatment.
Up to half of the world's population is infected by toxoplasmosis, but have no symptoms. In the United States, approximately 11% of people have been infected, while in some areas of the world this is more than 60%. Approximately 200,000 cases of congenital toxoplasmosis occur a year. Charles Nicolle and Louis Manceaux first described the organism in 1908. In 1941, transmission during pregnancy from a pregnant parent to their baby was confirmed. There is tentative evidence that infection may affect people's behavior.