My son was born with congenital toxoplasmosis

Dorte Remmer

Interview with Dorte Remmer, a medical professional from Denmark

When I became pregnant with my son, I was in medical school. I was waiting to see my doctor and saw a pamphlet for a research study on the annual number of babies born with toxoplasmosis in Denmark. At the time, it was not a routine test during pregnancy in Denmark. Since I was studying medicine, I felt a sense of obligation to help these other researchers. I signed up to have my son participate, and was completely surprised and shocked when my one-day-old baby tested positive for toxoplasmosis. Back then I didn’t know anything about the disease, and it seemed few other people did either.I was living on a farm, so when I learned about the epidemiology of the disease, I was very shocked that I hadn’t been infected much earlier in my life. My older son was always playing in the sandbox, and I would often join him, so I could easily have contracted it there, because cat faeces often end up in an unsecured sandbox. I could also have been infected from contaminated food as I would often taste and eat raw meat when preparing meals.

He was treated for 6 months with 2 different medications

Being the parent of a child diagnosed with toxoplasmosis was very challenging. Giving a tiny newborn baby so much medicine was rough on me as a mum. I frequently had to take him to the doctor for blood tests, and give him medicine that I know caused worrying side effects. It was so difficult, but I just had to keep in mind that it was all to make him healthy in the long term. He was treated for 6 months, with 2 separate medications. I remember having to take him for a brain scan; the technician wasn’t sure if he was reading the scan correctly, and we had to return the next day. It was the most miserable night. I was filled with fears and worries and there was so much uncertainty. The sense of guilt was the worst, wondering what I might have done to make my child sick.

The medication clearly affected him, because he became so much happier and more alive once his treatment was complete. His eyes and brain were tested extensively, and thankfully he had no symptoms of toxoplasmosis. However, seeing him go through all those tests, cry and be put through stress was incredibly rough. I wouldn’t wish it on any parent. I was lucky to be surrounded by supportive people. Parents need support, because this is not easy to deal with alone.

When I became pregnant, I was very ignorant of the risk factors. So going through this experience inspired me to focus my PhD on toxoplasmosis, to increase awareness about the disease and how to prevent it, so that fewer parents go through the stress I did.

Understand the risks, but live a normal life

For women planning to become or who are pregnant, I would encourage them to understand the basic guidelines of how to avoid getting toxoplasmosis. Be aware that eating raw meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables is a risk. However, women shouldn’t be too scared to live life normally during pregnancy. You should still play with your other children in the sandbox, just wash your hands afterwards! Having children has risks, but the more information you have, the better informed you are to make safe decisions.