Background: Despite three decades of prenatal screening for congenital toxoplasmosis in some European countries, uncertainty remains about the effectiveness of prenatal treatment.
Methods: We did a systematic review of cohort studies based on universal screening for congenital toxoplasmosis. We did a meta-analysis using individual patients' data to assess the effect of timing and type of prenatal treatment on mother-to-child transmission of infection and clinical manifestations before age 1 year. Analyses were adjusted for gestational age at maternal seroconversion and other covariates.
Findings: We included 26 cohorts in the review. In 1438 treated mothers identified by prenatal screening, we found weak evidence that treatment started within 3 weeks of seroconversion reduced mother-to-child transmission compared with treatment started after 8 or more weeks (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 0.48, 95% CI 0.28-0.80; p=0.05). In 550 infected liveborn infants identified by prenatal or neonatal screening, we found no evidence that prenatal treatment significantly reduced the risk of clinical manifestations (adjusted OR for treated vs not treated 1.11, 95% CI 0.61-2.02). Increasing gestational age at seroconversion was strongly associated with increased risk of mother-to-child transmission (OR 1.15, 95% CI 1.12-1.17) and decreased risk of intracranial lesions (0.91, 0.87-0.95), but not with eye lesions (0.97, 0.93-1.00).
Interpretation: We found weak evidence for an association between early treatment and reduced risk of congenital toxoplasmosis. Further evidence from observational studies is unlikely to change these results and would not distinguish whether the association is due to treatment or to biases caused by confounding. Only a large randomised controlled clinical trial would provide clinicians and patients with valid evidence of the potential benefit of prenatal treatment.