Washington: Scientists have identified specific strains of the Toxoplasma
gondii parasite, which may account for premature births and severe
birth defects in the US.
Pregnant women can become infected with T. gondii through contact
with infected cat faeces or by eating undercooked meat. Such women
may miscarry, give birth prematurely, or have babies with eye or
Researchers used a new blood test developed by National Institute
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), to pinpoint T. gondii
strains that children acquire from their acutely infected mothers
while in the womb.
Over half of the world's human population is estimated to carry a
Toxoplasma infection. During the first few weeks post-exposure,
the infection typically causes a mild flu-like illness or no
illness, according to a university statement.
Thereafter, the parasite rarely causes any symptoms in otherwise
healthy adults. However, those with a weakened immune system, such
as AIDS patients or pregnant women, may become seriously ill, and
it can occasionally be fatal.
"If undetected or untreated, congenital toxoplasmosis can have
serious consequences for a child's quality of life," noted NIAID
director Anthony S. Fauci. "The findings from this study support
the value of screening for toxoplasmosis to identify patients who
could benefit from treatment," he added.
The experimental test developed by Michael Grigg from NIAID's Lab
of Parasitic Diseases and his colleagues improves upon the older
tests because it can detect the presence of strain-specific
antibodies that distinguish infecting strains from one another.
The test was applied to blood samples collected between 1981 and
2009 as part of the National Collaborative Chicago-Based
Congenital Toxoplasmosis Study.