Toxoplasmosis Center

The University of Chicago Medicine has developed a unique center to help babies, children and adults affected by toxoplasmosis. It is one of the only centers in the world that offers comprehensive, lifelong care to people of all ages coping with the adverse effects of congenital toxoplasmosis and other Toxoplasma gondii infections. We have been working with some of the same patients for more than 25 years. For patients with toxoplasmosis, we offer the latest treatment options to improve their quality of life.

Our Mission

Our mission is to provide the most expert care for people at all stages of life who are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes the disease toxoplasmosis, and to advance research efforts in preventing and treating infection from the parasite Toxoplasma gondii that causes toxoplasmosis.

Our Clinical Care

At UChicago Medicine, our multidisciplinary team is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for patients with toxoplasmosis. This includes adults with acute acquired infection, immunologically suppressed patients and those with eye disease. We also specialize in caring for pregnant women and their fetuses affected by toxoplasmosis, as well as infants and children with congenital toxoplasmosis.

Our team for congenitally infected children includes specialists in infectious diseases, pediatric neurology, pediatric ophthalmology, occupational therapy, physical therapy and other professionals. Working closely with the woman's obstetrician, we ensure thorough diagnosis and explore treatment options for both the patient and her baby. We provide access to the latest advancements in toxoplasmosis treatment to offer our patients the best possible care.

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasma gondii, a small parasite less than the size of a human cell, causes the disease toxoplasmosis. T. gondii infects approximately one-third to one-half of all people worldwide.

People can acquire the parasite when they eat meat that is not thoroughly cooked. It is also possible to acquire the parasite directly or indirectly from a domestic cat (or another member of the cat family, such as a bobcat). An acutely infected cat excretes millions of T. gondii in a dormant form called an oocyst. Even one of these oocysts can cause infection and can remain infectious in water for up to six months or in warm, moist soil for up to a year. An oocyst may remain on anything that touches it. For example, it may be transferred from a cat to garden soil to a vegetable in the garden and finally to someone who eats the vegetable. It is not uncommon for someone to become infected by T. gondii without knowing the source of the infection.

Symptoms of Toxoplasmosis 

T. gondii can live in the body in dormant form and can cause toxoplasmosis if a person becomes immunocompromised from conditions such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, AIDS or transplantation and associated treatments. It also can resurface and cause eye disease in congenitally infected children later in life and in some older children and adults who were infected after birth.

If a mother is infected for the first time while she is pregnant and passes the parasite to her child, the baby can suffer eye or brain damage. Babies infected with T. gondii while in the womb are said to have congenital toxoplasmosis. Treatment can prevent transmission of the parasite from mother to child. When diagnosed and treated early, treatment can also prevent the infection's adverse effects for a baby or for older persons with brain or eye disease.

Older children and adults who become infected may not have symptoms, or they may develop a flu-like illness or enlarged lymph glands. In rare cases, older children and adults who are infected develop other conditions such as brain or heart inflammation.

Treatment Options for Toxoplasmosis 

Medicines currently used to treat toxoplasmosis have side effects. No medicines currently available can eliminate the dormant parasites from the body, so toxoplasmosis may recur. However, there is promise for both improved medicines and a vaccine. A chronically infected mother's immune response (if she is not immunocompromised) prevents her from transmitting the parasite to her baby. Researchers are encouraged by this response and are seeking a vaccine that will elicit a similar protective immune response to prevent infection. There is also encouraging progress being made toward discovery of improved medicines.