Tests and treatments
Effects on the unborn baby
Toxoplasmosis (or 'toxo') is an infection caused by a small parasite called 'toxoplasmosis gondii'. Cats acquire the infection from eating infected animals such as mice and birds. Other animals that can carry toxoplasmosis cysts in their muscles and faeces are sheep, goats, pigs, cattle and chickens.
Toxoplasmosis can be caught by humans coming in contact with cat faeces (or the faeces of other infected animals) and then not washing their hands thoroughly before eating. Faeces can remain infective in water or moist soil for up to year. Children can become infected by eating dirt or sand from sandpits, in which cats have defecated. You can also become infected by eating raw or undercooked meat infected by toxoplasmosis. Once the meat is cooked the toxoplasmosis dies.
A person can only be infected once, then they have immunity for life. An infected person cannot pass toxoplasmosis onto another person.
Most healthy adults, children and babies are not bothered by being infected with toxplasmosis and do not become unwell. However, if a woman is infected for the first time during pregnancy (called a 'primary infection'), this can sometimes infect her unborn baby causing health problems (called 'congenital toxoplasmosis'). Other people who are susceptible to toxoplasmosis are those with suppressed immune systems (such as sufferers of HIV/AIDS).