Toxo-what? Toxoplasmosis is a topic mothers-to-be will often be concerned about if they either a) have a cat, or b) feed their pet a raw diet. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by toxoplasma gondii. It is one of the world’s most common parasites and is transmitted through ingesting under-cooked contaminated meat, contaminated fruits/vegetables, exposure to infected cat feces, or mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy.Most healthy individuals who are infected don’t experience any signs or symptoms – they are usually not aware that they even have it. It is more of a concern for people with weakened immune systems or pregnant mothers contracting toxoplasmosis for the first time passing it on to their unborn babies.

What does this have to do with the eyes? Ocular toxoplasmosis is when the infection affects the eyes by causing inflammation of ocular structures. Individuals with healthy immune systems normally do not display the ocular side effects of toxoplasmosis; however, immunocompromised individuals or babies contracting it through the placenta are at risk of developing severe ocular complications that can cause vision loss if left untreated.

Ocular toxoplasmosis most often appears as inflammation in the back structures of the eye causing an increase in floaters and blurred vision during an active infection. The retina, vitreous, and sometimes the front portion of the eye can become inflamed. This inflammation can spread to cause edema (build up of fluid) in the macula (the structure that we use for clear vision) – when left untreated can cause severe vision loss.

Babies are most at risk if the mother becomes infected in the third trimester; however, the earlier in your pregnancy the infection occurs, the more serious the issues become. Many early infections end in stillbirth or miscarriages. For those that survive an early infection, complications commonly include: seizures, enlarged liver and spleen, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) and severe eye infections.

Prevention is key when it comes to toxoplasmosis. Raw meat, raw eggs, unwashed vegetables, and unpasturized milk should not be consumed during pregnancy. For cat owners specifically, pregnant mothers need to avoid cleaning cat litter completely. As for pet owners who feed their pets a raw diet, ensure that utensils that are used for serving the raw meat are not shared with your own – if they are, ensure that are cleaned properly before coming in contact with your meals (ie. cutting boards, knives, bowls, etc.). Thoroughly washing all fruits and vegetables that are going to be eaten raw.

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