Toxoplasmosis Fact Sheet

Minnesota Department of Health
June, 2007

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What is it?

Toxoplasmosis an illness caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The infection occurs worldwide in animals and birds. Toxoplasma infection is common in people, but it usually does not cause any symptoms.   

Cats are important in the spread of toxoplasmosis because they are the only species that shed the parasite in their feces.

Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to experience serious illness. Pregnant women can pass the infection to their unborn baby if they become infected during or just before pregnancy. The baby may be born with blindness or brain damage, or might develop serious problems later in life, such as blindness or mental retardation.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of toxoplasmosis include fever, swollen glands and muscle aches. Most people who become infected with Toxoplasma have no symptoms. 

If people develop symptoms, they usually begin 1 to 3 weeks after being exposed to the parasite. Symptoms usually last for 2 to 4 weeks.

How is it spread?

You can become infected with Toxoplasma by:

  • Eating raw or partially cooked pork, lamb, or venison.
  • Accidentally touching your hands to your mouth after gardening or cleaning a cat’s litter box.
  • Touching your hands to your mouth after handling raw or undercooked meat.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

  • Contact your health care provider. If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, your health care provider may do a blood test to check for antibodies to Toxoplasma.

How can I prevent toxoplasmosis?

  • Wash your hands often!
    • After changing the litter box
    • After touching animals (especially cats)
    • After gardening
    • After using the bathroom
    • After changing diapers
    • Before eating
      • Wear gloves when you garden or do outdoor activities.
  • Cook all meat thoroughly. Wash and/or peel fruits and vegetables before eating them.
  • Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen by washing hands, cutting boards, countertops, knives, utensils, and other surfaces after handling raw meats.
  • Don’t drink untreated water from lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, or shallow wells.

Special tips for people with weakened immune systems or pregnant women:

  • Have someone who is healthy and not pregnant change your cat’s litter box daily. If this is not possible, wear gloves and clean the litter box daily (the parasite found in cat feces needs one or more days after being passed in the feces to become infectious). Always wash your hands after changing the litter box.
  • Keep your cat healthy. Help prevent it from becoming infected with Toxoplasma by keeping it indoors and feeding it dry or canned cat food rather than allowing it to have access to wild birds and rodents or to food scraps. Cats can become infected by eating infected prey or by eating raw or undercooked meat infected with the parasite.
  • Avoid stray cats and kittens. Talk to your veterinarian if you have other questions about keeping your cat healthy.

Updated Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 10:09AM