Background: Most infants with congenital Toxoplasma gondii infection have no symptoms at birth, but many will have retinal disease or neurologic abnormalities later in life. Early detection and treatment of congenital toxoplasmosis may reduce these sequelae.
Methods: In Massachusetts since January 1986, and in New Hampshire since July 1988, newborns have been screened for intrauterine infection with T. gondii by means of an IgM capture immunoassay of blood specimens routinely collected for screening for metabolic disorders. Congenital infection is confirmed by assays for specific IgG and IgM antibodies in serum from infants and their mothers. For this study, infants with serologic evidence of infection underwent extensive clinical evaluation and received one year of treatment.
Results: Through June 1992, 100 of 635,000 infants tested had positive screening tests. Congenital infection was confirmed in 52 infants, 50 of whom were identified only through neonatal screening and not through initial clinical examination. However, after the serologic results became available, more detailed examinations revealed abnormalities of either the central nervous system or the retina in 19 of 48 infants evaluated (40 percent). After treatment, only 1 of 46 children had a neurologic deficit (hemiplegia attributable to a cerebral lesion present at birth). Thirty-nine treated children had follow-up ophthalmologic examinations when one to six years old; four (10 percent) had eye lesions that may have developed postnatally (a macular lesion in one child and minor retinal scars in three).
Conclusions: Routine neonatal screening for toxoplasmosis identifies congenital infections that are subclinical, and early treatment may reduce the severe long-term sequelae.