Congenital toxoplasmosis

Causes

What causes congenital toxoplasmosis?

Being infected by a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii or T. gondii before you are born causes congenital toxoplasmosis. However, most newborn babies with congenital toxoplasmosis will not show any signs of the infection right away. Congenital toxoplasmosis is not caused by a genetic mutation.

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What happens when you are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis?

What are the risk factors for acquiring toxoplasmosis, or the factors that raise the chance of getting the infection?

What happens when you are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis?

When someone is infected with Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, the parasite gets into the body's cells and makes copies of itself. The parasite can get into all organs, but especially infects the muscles, heart, liver, spleen, lymph nodes, and central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Here, the parasite can continue to copy itself and spread around the body, or it can stay in a dormant state, meaning they are not copying themselves, and wait to "wake up" at a later time.

If a person is infected with toxoplasmosis before birth it leads to congenital toxoplasmosis. The main symptoms of congenital toxoplasmosis are chorioretinitis (inflammation in the back part of the 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 occur until adulthood. Studies have shown that up to 80% of people with congenital toxoplasmosis will develop learning disabilities or vision loss later in life.

It is important to note that not all women who are infected during pregnancy will pass the infection on to their baby. Overall, if a mother is infected during pregnancy, there is a 20-50% chance that the baby will be infected. The risk is lowest in early pregnancy (10-25%) but the effects to the baby are usually more severe. In later pregnancy (third trimester), there is a higher risk of infection in the baby (60-90%), but the effects on the baby are usually milder.

If a mother is infected during pregnancy, this can also cause a miscarriage in some cases.

References
What are the risk factors for acquiring toxoplasmosis, or the factors that raise the chance of getting the infection?

Here is a list of risk factors for getting toxoplasmosis:

  • Cleaning a cat's litter box
  • Eating raw/undercooked pork, mutton, lamb, beef, or ground-meat products
  • Gardening
  • Eating raw or unwashed fruits/vegetables
  • Eating raw vegetables outside the home
  • Having contact with soil/dirt
  • Not washing kitchen knives often
  • Not washing hands often
  • Traveling outside of Europe, Canada, or the United States
  • Drinking water from a contaminated source
References

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