Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(8):1580

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis (say: tox-oh-plas-MOH-sis) is an infection caused by a parasite. This parasite lives in the intestines of cats and is spread through cat feces, usually into litter boxes and garden soil. You can get the parasite by handling cat litter or soil where there is cat feces. You also can get it from eating undercooked meat from infected animals, such as rare beef.

What happens if I’m infected?

Healthy adults usually don’t get sick from toxoplasmosis. Most people with the infection don’t have symptoms, but those who do may feel like they have the flu. If you get infected while you are pregnant, your baby also can get infected. Babies with toxoplasmosis don’t always get sick. Sometimes, though, the infection can cause eye problems and brain damage.

If you were infected with the parasite at least six months before you got pregnant, you will be immune to it. This means there is very little risk to your baby.

How do I know if I’m infected?

Your doctor can do a blood test to see if you’ve been exposed to the parasite, but this test is not done routinely. If you are not tested and don’t know if you’re immune, you can take steps to protect yourself and your baby

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself and your baby from toxoplasmosis while you are pregnant:

  • Don’t let your cat go outside, where it can come into contact with the parasite.

  • Try to find someone who will take care of your cat while you are pregnant. Have him or her change the cat litter and clean the litter box with boiling water for five minutes. If you have to change the cat litter yourself, wear gloves and wash your hands with warm, soapy water as soon as you are done.

  • Wear work gloves when you are gardening, and wash your hands afterward. Cover children’s sandboxes when no one is playing in them. Cats like to use sandboxes as litter boxes.

  • Control flies and cockroaches as much as you can. They can track soil or cat feces onto food.

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat or poultry. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.

  • Wash your hands well before you eat and after you touch raw meat, soil, sand, or cats.

  • Don’t rub your eyes or face while you are cooking. Wash all cutting boards, knives, and countertops after you cook.

  • Don’t eat raw eggs or drink unpasteurized milk. (Most milk sold in stores has been pasteurized, but check the label if you’re not sure.)

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