Toxoplasmosis and pregnancy: More definitive testing available

A panel of tests developed by Stanford University Medical Center researchers can better gauge a pregnant woman's risk of transmitting a damaging infection known as toxoplasmosis to her fetus, according to a new study. The researchers say this could dramatically reduce abortions among women concerned about the infection's effect on their unborn children.

According to the study, 60 percent of the pregnant women who underwent standard tests for toxoplasmosis either registered a false-positive or had their test results misinterpreted. When informed that the additional tests indicated they had little chance of passing the infection on to their fetuses, only 0.4 percent of these women chose to abort their pregnancies. In comparison, 17.2 percent of the women whose positive result was confirmed by the additional tests terminated their pregnancies.

"This is a wake-up call for this country to recognize the importance of appropriate serologic testing for pregnant women," said Jack Remington, MD, professor of medicine (infectious diseases and geographic medicine) and leader of the study team. "We're facing a problem with incorrect interpretations of tests, and tests on the market that are inadequate. My hope is that reference laboratories can be set up throughout the United States to perform testing that is far more accurate and would help prevent unwarranted abortions."

The study's findings are published in January's issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The toxoplasmosis infection results from ingesting the common microscopic parasite Toxoplasma gondii, or toxoplasma, through the consumption of undercooked or raw meat. It can also result from contact with infected cat feces. Nearly a third of adults in the United States and Europe have been infected by the microbe, which they carry for life as cysts in their organs. The acute infection is mild and often without symptoms in those with healthy immune systems.

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