"Pregnant women should be especially careful about exposing themselves to the parasite toxoplasma gondii because toxoplasmosis can be very serious in a newborn baby."
Sandra Burchett, MD, MSc, Clinical Director, Boston Children's Hospital Division of Infectious Diseases
You’re likely to be confused and overwhelmed—not to mention scared—if your infant has been diagnosed with congenital toxoplasmosis. But you can play an active role in helping him get better. Developing a basic understanding of the condition is a great first step as you partner with your child’s health care team to form a treatment plan.
- Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite toxoplasma gondii.
- If the parasite infects a pregnant woman, it can enter the placenta and affect the baby inside.
- The parasite usually enters the body through the mouth. It can be spread in two ways: eating uncooked or undercooked meat or eggs containing the organism, or by oral contact with either soil or cat feces containing parasite eggs (e.g., gardening in infected soil or handling cat litter or feces and then putting your hands in your mouth).
Cats are the only animals that can transmit the toxoplasma gondii parasite directly to people (and only through their feces), but there is no documented correlation between cat ownership—especially if the cats are kept indoors—and toxoplasmosis.
- Cats can only become infected with the parasite if they eat prey already containing the parasite, or if they come into contact with infected soil. For this reason, cats kept indoors are highly unlikely to be toxoplasma gondii carriers.
- Despite the old wives’ tale, it’s not necessary to get rid of your cat if you (or a family member) are pregnant. You should be sure to take proper steps to avoid contact with cat litter and feces
If you’re pregnant, here are some things to avoid in order to lessen your risk of acquiring toxoplasmosis:
- consuming undercooked meat
- gardening or yard work that involves direct contact with soil
- eating raw eggs
- touching cat feces and/or cat litter
- exposure to insects (e.g., flies) that have been in contact with cat feces
If your baby has been infected with the toxoplasma gondii parasite, treatment should begin right away to ensure that the condition has a minimal effect on her health.
How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches congenital toxoplasmosis
Here at Children’s, physicians in our Division of Infectious Diseases treat congenital toxoplasmosis in infants.
Physicians in theDivision of Infectious Diseases care for children and adolescents with a variety of infections.
- In addition to treating children, we also are dedicated to researching better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent infectious diseases.
How does Children’s treat congenitaltoxoplasmosis?
- If the condition is detected early through a blood test, antiparasitic treatments can eliminate toxoplasmosis before the parasite harms the fetus.
- Children’s clinicians treat babies born with congenital toxoplasmosis with anti-toxoplasmosis medications, usually for 1 year after birth.
- One of our experts will determine which combination of medications is best suited for your baby.
At Children's Division of Newborn Medicine, we specialize in treating babies with a wide range of congenital and acquired conditions. Your baby will be seen by a specially trained team of physicians, nurses, therapists and other health professionals who routinely diagnose and treat newborns with critical illnesses.
Leading the way in fetal and neonatal care
Babies who have a congenital neurological condition need intense, specialized care. At the Fetal-Neonatal Neurology Program at Children’s, we provide comprehensive evaluation and treatment for these young children. Because newborns’ brains are in a crucial window of rapid development, we identify problems as early as possible and intervene quickly.
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Congenital Toxoplasmosis: Reviewed by Sandra Burchett, MD, MSc, Clinical Director, Children’s Hospital Boston Division of Infectious Diseases