Congenital toxoplasmosis happens when a pregnant women passes toxoplasmosis to her growing fetus. This parasite, called Toxoplasma gondii, may be found in undercooked meats, contaminated water, or soiled cat litter. If the mother comes into contact with the parasite and develops toxoplasmosis, she usually will not notice any symptoms. However, the infection may cause the baby to be born too early (premature) and to develop vision problems (especially in the retina), yellowing of the skin (jaundice), hearing problems, fevers, or seizures. The baby may also have intellectual disabilities. The earlier a fetus develops toxoplasmosis, the more severe the symptoms. It is however more likely for a mother to pass it to her baby later in pregnancy. Many babies will not show symptoms until they are a few months old, and sometimes symptoms do not appear until years later. Toxoplasmosis cannot be passed from the baby to other people.
A blood test looking for antibodies (part of our immune system which fights infection) against toxoplasmosis can confirm the diagnosis. A brain scan (MRI) may also be used to see if the infection has harmed the baby’s brain. A woman can be tested before getting pregnant or early in pregnancy to determine if she has already had toxoplasmosis. If she has not, she will be told to be very careful to avoid coming into contact with the parasite. Tests can be done during the pregnancy if toxoplasmosis is suspected and treatment can begin then. Treatment includes a year-long course of special medications. Many babies are screened for congenital toxoplasmosis at birth so that treatment may begin early, but newborn screening conditions vary by state. For more information, visit Baby’s First Test.. Talk with your baby’s doctor about the most current treatment options. Support groups are also good sources of information.