Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii. There are only about 350 reported cases in the UK per year although it is thought there is probably up to 350,000 cases as it often goes unnoticed. In fact 1 in 3 people have been infected at some point in their lives, usually becoming immune after the first time. As it has very few damaging symptoms it is usually left untreated as the immune system is able to fight it. Only when it affects ‘at risk’ patients, such as those who are HIV positive or pregnant, would treatment be administered.
Congenital toxoplasmosis is far more dangerous and often leads to miscarridge. Given only 1 in 30,000 babies are born with the condition, I was privileged to be able to follow a case during my time on the paediatric ward in Warsaw, Poland. When the baby and mother were first admitted, the baby had a stereotypical smaller head and a visibly swollen abdomen. One of the main concerns was that the baby was feeding up to 30 times a day but had gained little weight since birth, despite being born prematurely. Not only was this bad for the baby, but it was also putting a great deal of strain on the mother who had to produce such large amounts of milk whilst also trying to recover for the disease as well.
I was able to witness early neurological tests and discuss some of the possible future implications for the child-the most worrying being Seizures and intellectual disability. Following my return I was able to look further into the disease.Most common treatement given to babies born with toxoplasmosis is pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine as they reduce the risk of serious or long term issues. They may need to be taken for up to a year, which can be a problem in countries where healthcare is not free. However there is not currently any medication or treatment available to reverse damage that has already been done, so recurrent or long-term problems may still occur despite treatment.
This suggests treatment is more targeted to mild cases where symptoms don’t appear for many months or even years, as there is often very little lasting damage done prior to birth. The most common manifestation of mild congenital toxoplasmosis being vision problems during teenage development. However those who don’t develop symptoms during childhood or as adolescents are usually be immune for life, as there is low chance of mutation in this disease, so memory cells produced during the first infection of the disease will remain effective to prevent future infection. This is also usually true for anyone who is infected with toxoplasmosis at any point after birth.
From seeing the emotional and physical strain this easily preventable disease had on the mother and baby, I believe more effort should be made to increased mothers awareness so as to reduce risk of diseases such as toxoplasmosis. For toxoplasmosis there are very easy ways for expectant mothers to avoid possible infections; Wearing gloves when gardening to aviod contact with soil, washing hands and surfaces before and after handling raw meat, washing fruit before eating, avoiding coming into contact with cat litter and feeding your cats dried or canned cat food rather than raw meat.