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Health Information Toxoplasmosis Screening

Researchers recommend toxoplasmosis screening for pregnant women and newborns

Toxoplasmosis is an infection that can develop when a pregnant woman is exposed to the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can be found in cat litter, undercooked meat and garden soil. Transmission of this parasite to the newborn baby results in a condition known as congenital toxoplasmosis. Although most infected babies are asymptomatic at birth, by adolescence most will develop serious eye disease or brain damage. Treatment of an infected pregnant woman can prevent congenital infection, and treatment of an infected infant can prevent or improve the outcome of eye or brain involvement.

In a collaborative study that was published in the February 2005 edition of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Kenneth Boyer, MD, chairperson of pediatrics at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, interviewed 131 women whose babies had been diagnosed with congenital toxoplasmosis. Boyer and his colleagues found that about half of these mothers recalled neither a specific illness during pregnancy nor exposure to the usual vehicles of infection. Only eight percent were actually tested for the infection prior to delivery.

The authors concluded that universal screening for the condition during pregnancy or immediately after birth would help to prevent or improve the outcomes of most congenitally infected babies. They recommended more education of women of childbearing age on the dangers of this infection and how to avoid it. In addition, they also suggested that pregnant women with lymph node swelling or unexplained fevers be tested for toxoplasmosis.

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