What is toxoplasmosis?

Information from National Food Agency, Sweden

Toxoplasmosis is a unicellular parasite present in humans and animals all over the world. The main source of infection is lamb and pork meat. Cats are the main hosts of toxoplasmosis and it can spread through contact with cat faeces.

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What is toxoplasmosis?
Photo: Preggers

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasma gondii is a unicellular parasite, a so-called protozoan parasite, with cats as its main host. An infected cat carries the parasite in its faeces. In infected animals and humans, the parasite localizes in muscle tissue, the brain and other organs. The parasite can live there for many years, often without causing any problems for the host animal.

Where is toxoplasmosis found?

Humans can get infected by eating undercooked meat containing toxoplasmosis. Lamb is believed to be the main source of infection for humans, although meat from other animals can also be contaminated, such as pork and game. Toxoplasmosis can survive in the natural environment and remain infectious for a year outside a host animal. Therefore, the parasite can spread via foods that have been in touch with contaminated soils, such as vegetables.

Symptoms

Toxoplasmosis does usually not cause any symptoms or only mild symptoms such as occasional fever, headache and muscle pain. Infection is often followed by lifelong immunity.

If a woman becomes newly infected by toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, the parasite can be transmitted to the foetus and cause miscarriage, birth defects or congenital infection. Congenital toxoplasmosis is generally manifested later in life as eye or brain damage.

Specific risk groups

Persons with weakened immune systems and pregnant women not immune to toxoplasmosis.

Reducing the risk of getting sick

Cooking at temperatures at 65 ºC or higher and freezing at -18 ºC for at least three days kills toxoplasma gondii. It is unclear, however, whether the parasite dies during curing, drying and smoking of meats.

Swedish Food Agency

Reviewed by Swedish Food Agency