Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. The easiest way to become infected by this parasite is by contact with cat faeces or by eating raw or lightly cooked meat that has been contaminated with it.
Cats usually acquire the disease when they eat infected rodents or birds. The parasite breeds in the cat’s intestine and ends up in its faeces. It becomes infectious in a matter of days and is resistant to most disinfectants. Under certain conditions of heat and moisture, it is able to live underground for more than a year. Infected cats usually seem healthy.
Toxoplasmosis is one of the most common infections in humans. Most cases go undetected. The symptoms, when they occur, tend to be similar to flu. Although the active form of the infection only happens once in a lifetime, the parasite usually stays inside the body for an indefinite length of time. It normally does not produce discomfort and remains inactive unless the bearer’s immune system does not function properly.
If women develop immunity to the infection between six and nine months before becoming pregnant, they rarely transmit the disease to their babies. However, when a pregnant woman acquires toxoplasmosis for the first time, there is a 40% probability that she will transmit the infection to her unborn child.
Although up to 90% of infected babies seem normal at birth, between 80 and 90% develop serious eye infections months or years later. Some of them will develop hearing loss, hydrocephalus, brain damage, learning disabilities or stroke. Toxoplasmosis acquired during pregnancy may also cause miscarriage or foetal death.
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