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Toxoplasmosis | Overview

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite, and it's usually acquired by the parasite getting into the body by the mouth (for instance, by eating undercooked meat). If the parasite infects a pregnant woman, it can also infect a woman's fetus.

You can reduce your risk of toxoplasmosis by avoiding all potential sources of the infection, including:

  • consumption of undercooked meat
  • consumption of raw eggs
  • exposure to cat feces and cat litter
  • insects (like flies) that have been in contact with cat feces

How we care for toxoplasmosis

Through the joint work of researchers, genetic specialists, surgeons, and other care providers, Boston Children's Hospital's Maternal Fetal Care Center is breaking new ground in diagnosing and treating fetal health problems.

Toxoplasmosis | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of toxoplasmosis?

Infants afflicted with toxoplasmosis often appear normal at birth, only exhibiting symptoms several years after they are born.

The most common complications from pre-natal exposure to the disease include:

  • Chorioretinitis - inflammation of the choroid layer behind the retina, which can progress to blindness
  • Hydrocephalus - buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain
  • Intracranial calcifications - the calcifications indicate parts of the brain that have been damaged by the parasite, and are often linked to:
    • mental retardation
    • seizures
    • motor and developmental delays

The symptoms of toxoplasmosis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Toxoplasmosis | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is toxoplasmosis diagnosed?

A blood test before or during pregnancy can determine if you have been exposed to the toxoplasma gondii parasite.

If you are infected, another type of test can determine whether the baby is infected. In addition, fetal ultrasounds/ prenatal ultrasounds can determine if the baby's organs are damaged.

Currently, physicians in the United States do not routinely screen pregnant women for toxoplasma gondii.

How is toxoplasmosis treated?

If detected early, antiparasitic treatments can eliminate toxoplasmosis before the parasite harms the fetus.

What is the likelihood that my baby will have toxoplasmosis?

Fortunately, the risk of maternal transmission of the parasite to the fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy (when the baby is most vulnerable) is relatively low — at 15-20 percent.

However, by the third trimester, a pregnant woman with toxoplasmosis has a 60 percent chance of infecting her child. So, it's very important to get checked out if you think you may have been exposed to the parasite.

Toxoplasmosis | Programs & Services