What is congenital toxoplasmosis?
Congenital toxoplasmosis means that a person was infected with a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii before they were born. This happens when a mother gets toxoplasmosis while she is pregnant and the parasite gets passed on to the baby.
The main symptoms, known as the "classic triad", of congenital toxoplasmosis are chorioretinitis (inflammation in the back part of eye that can cause blindness), hydrocephalus (too much fluid around the brain), and intracranial calcifications (bright spots in the brain seen on ultrasound that usually don't cause problems by themselves). Other symptoms of congenital toxoplasmosis may not be present when the baby is born and can take 20-30 years to appear. In fact, most newborn babies with congenital toxoplasmosis will not show any signs of the infection right away. Some symptoms might start to appear in early childhood, like intellectual and learning disabilities, and others might not happen until adulthood. Studies have shown that up to 80% of people with congenital toxoplasmosis will develop learning disabilities or vision loss later in life.
Toxoplasmosis is a type of infection that is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasma gondii is a common parasite that infects animals and humans. If the parasite gets into a person's mouth, either by eating food that has it or touching something that is infected and then touching the mouth, they can become infected, and we say that they have a toxoplasmosis infection. If the infection happens in a woman who is pregnant, the baby may develop congenital toxoplasmosis. Not all women who are pregnant will pass the infection to their baby.
There are three common ways to get toxoplasmosis: touching your mouth after handling dirt or litter boxes that have infected cat feces (poop), eating undercooked meat or unwashed fruits/vegetables contaminated by the parasite, or being exposed to it before you are born.
- Jones, J., Lopez, A., and Wilson, M. (2003). Congenital Toxoplasmosis. Am Fam Physician. 2003 May 15;67(10):2131-2138. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/0515/p2131.html