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Dealing with a Toxoplasmosis Scare

blood-testDuring the first trimester of pregnancy with our second child, an early test of my wife’s blood indicated a potential for a Toxoplasmosis infection.  I had heard of Toxoplasmosis before – we have a cat and it’s usually something the doctors will tell cat owners or an annoying family member will shout out when trying to show-off their knowledge of pregnancy facts and grill you about owning the litter box maintenance.

With our first child, I took over litter box duty and we never had any indication of issues.  With our second child we had a scare.

What is Toxoplasmosis?

From all that I’ve read on various websites, Toxoplasmosis is something that can infect human beings at any point in life.  It’s typically caught by exposure to feces from animals that have been infected as well, most notably, cats.  However, you can also contract it from secondary exposures which is why doctors typically tell women to give up gardening during pregnancy (worried that a neighborhood cat/animal used your garden as a toilet) and to thoroughly wash fruits, vegetables, and eat only well-cooked meat (there’s a slight potential for contamination from farms).

For more information on the definition of Toxoplasmosis: http://www.cdc.gov/toxoplasmosis/

As a Dad, should I worry?

Probably not, but I sure as hell did.  To clarify, I didn’t really worry until we had blood test results indicating a possible infection.  Prior to the blood work, I would have never even thought of it, but if we have another child it will definitely be on my mind.  I think this is partly due to the vast literature available on the web that indicates some awful things that can happen if the fetus becomes infected, but overall this is rather rare.  Still, once our doctor told us about a possible infection, then my wife was sent for further blood tests and it made me worry even further.

Our Experience

As I mentioned, my wife’s first few blood tests showed a potential for recent infection with Toxoplasmosis.  As it was explained to us, and as my memory serves me, there are two main elements in the blood that are measured when screening for Toxoplasmosis infections – antibodies IgG and IgM.

When someone is infected with Toxoplasmosis, then the IgM antibodies are produced to fight the infection.  After the infection passes, then the IgG antibodies increase, as they are the memory antibodies for fighting off future infection.

During blood screening, if someone has a high level of IgG antibodies, it typically means that the person had a previous infection and now has a stockpile of IgG antibodies to fight any future infection quickly and with ease.

If someone has low IgG levels, it typically means the person has not been infected previously.  During blood screening, if IgG levels are low and IGM levels increases, then it typically indicates that there is a recent infection, which if occurs during pregnancy then the infection could be passed to the fetus.

Important Lesson – If the mother is infected, it does NOT absolutely mean that the fetus will get the infection.  Chances will depend on the trimester of infection – earlier trimesters the mother is less likely to pass infection, but if passed it will tend to spell worse things for the baby.  The chance of passing the infection is greater in the later stages of pregnancy, but the lasting effects are not as great.

Out Test Results

My wife’s initial blood test indicated that there was a IgM level of 11.1, while IgG was less than 3.0

As a baseline, IgM of 10.0 is considered normal and anything above 10.0 will indicate heightened levels. The second blood test indicated there was a IgM level of 12.2, while the IgG was still less than 3.0.  Third test showed IgM of 14, and IgG less than 3.0.

All signs lead to a recent infection, so we were worried.  This all brought us to about Week 16/17 of the pregnancy, and upon our doctor’s advice – and additional down syndrome screening that came back out of range – we scheduled an amniocentesis (procedure to extract amniotic fluid via a needle through the mother’s abdomen).  While the blood work will test whether or not my wife was infected with Toxoplasmosis, only an amniocentesis would reveal if the baby was infected.

More on Amniocentesis: http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/amniocentesis

Amniocentesis, Genetic Counselling

At our hospital, patients undergoing an amniocentesis will first meet with a genetic counselor to discuss all of the results leading up to the amnio and the options available.  The counselor was extremely thorough and really helped my wife and I understand why the doctor was recommending an amnio.  However, she also indicated that only amniotic fluid extracted after week 18 was an accurate sample for testing Toxoplasmosis in the fetus.  So, if we wanted to have an amnio for testing the Toxoplasmosis results, we would need to come back a week later.

The good news was that we no longer had a scare with Toxoplasmosis…

False Alarm

After 3 blood tests performed by local laboratories, a final blood test was taken 4 days prior to the amnio.  This blood sample was sent to a lab in Palo Alto, California that specializes in Toxoplasmosis testing (among other things) - Palo Alto Medical Foundation.  This time the test results came back with both the IgG and IgM levels low enough to be considered negative.

Lessons Learned

  • Toxoplasmosis is something typically caught from cat feces but it has other sources.  To be extremely safe, be sure to wash fruits and vegetables, thoroughly cook meat, and have your wife avoid gardening.
  • Just because your wife tests positive, it does not absolutely mean that the fetus will get infected, so don’t freak out too much
  • If your wife’s tests results were similar to our story, and the testing is conducted by local laboratories, request that the blood be sent to Palo Alto Medical Foundation.  From what I’ve been told, the results from this lab will trump any local lab for testing Toxoplasmosis.
  • An Amniocentesis performed to detect a Toxoplasmosis infection will only be accurate if performed after week 18 (according to our genetic counselor)
  • As always – all people, pregnancies, genetics, and lifestyles are different and our experiences detailed in this posting may not be the same as your experience.  Always consult your physician when dealing with any serious pregnancy or health matter.

Additional Resources:

32 Responses to “Dealing with a Toxoplasmosis Scare”

  1. Dave says:

    Great blog. My wife is going through the exact same situation and we are waiting for the blood results from the lab in california. Hope it come out negative .. !!

    • Functional Father 1 says:

      Dave – thanks for the comment. I hope the best for you and your wife and that the post added some background of what we went through. I hope you guys have the same ending. Keep me posted and good luck (feel free to send a message on twitter.com/funfather)

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  4. Michelle Kaleb says:

    Thank you for the information. I have recently tested positive twice for Toxo..and have been quiet scared. Frankly this is the only information that gave me some relief and and insight to all of this. I’m currently overseas, and many women here test positive due to the undercook meat. I will be going in for a amnio test soon. Wish me luck and thanks again.

  5. Eve says:

    Hi,

    I am week 12th and my clinic called 2 days ago to tell me my toxo test was a positive.
    I am definitely worried and have been surfing for all available information. Mostly on professional websites, telling me about the “Dos and Don’ts”.

    I am really very glad to find your blog.
    Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Alisha says:

    Thank you so much for this helpful info, I’m currently 9 weeks pregnant and am being sent to a high risk pregnancy specialist. My first toxoplasma igg was 272.1 which was high and my original igm was 0.97 which was high, my most recent lab results were igg being >500 and igm being 3.4. I’ve been so upset and worried, I just wish there was more info out there on these lab values. I go to the specialist on Tuesday and I’m praying to god for good news :(

    • SuB says:

      Alisha….hope you received good news. I, too, am 9 weeks pregnant and tested positive. I see the specialist tomorrow. Any advice?

    • Madiha says:

      Hi, am in the same boat as you are, am 7.5 weeks igg is 500 and igm is positive, what were your results and what advice did you get from your doctor? Please let me know, any information will be usefull.

  7. Erin says:

    I am 13 weeks today and just recieved a call from my OB that my intial screening is positive. I am going to see a high-risk OB for further testing, which will be sent out to that lab in California for more comprehensive results. We got a rescue cat in February who got toxo just a week after we got her – we treated her with antibiotic pills, ointment, and eyedrops for 4 weeks. I got pregnant in April. I am freaking out, but so glad to hear a story of a positive outcome. Praying that we get the same. Thanks for all the information.

  8. andri says:

    Hi, thanks for your post-very helpful. I am passing through the same situation at this point(I am 17 weeks at the moment) and waiting to do my amnio test. I am scared ofcurse but thinking positive for good results.

  9. Sam Pryse says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve still got big questions for my situation as my IGG levels have changed,but the IGM levels have remained the same. My tests have been taken four months apart so I’m curious to know whether in those four months i have contracted the parasite. It was very helpful to read about your situation.

  10. M.A says:

    We just came out of a similar situation. When I was nine weeks my toxoplasmosis blood test results (using Torch test) came back with IgG 625 and IgM as being 1.6 (in the high positive).

    I knew that I had the immunity for toxo (always had cats in my life and always ate red meat) but to get results saying that I could have a recent infection really made us extremely worried (reading medical websites about Toxo in pregnancy is not a good thing to do, but one must be informed, it just freaked us out). My Gyn/Ob said that he was sceptic about it because I am a healthy person with no signs of infection and my white blood cell count is normal so he decided to send my blood results to a specialised toxoplasmosis lab in France (I live in Mauritius where toxo is a common infection) and it seems that the French have one of the highesttoxoplasmosis infection among all the European countries, and it is a routine test during pregnancy.

    After 17 days of waiting on the edge, trying to keep a positive outlook and trying hard not to think of worst case scenarios.. we finally get results that it is ALL CLEAR.

    Torch is a basic test for blood and it does give alarming results when there is no need for it. From reading websites about Toxoplasmosis, it looks like high level of IgM antibodies could stay elevated even a year after the actual infection takes place. I would say that if you are a pregnant woman who deals with cats and who used to like her red meat then skip the Torch test and immediately send the blood to a specialist lab for toxo, at least to spare you the waiting time that we had to go through.

    In my case, If I could turn time, I would have done these blood tests (even the torch one) before getting pregnant so at least there are results to compare with before and after pregnancy. At least it would have showed that my IgM antibodies levels were elevated before pregnancy. I am now 12 weeks pregnant and over the moon with the news.

    Reading about the positive stories out there really relieved some of the worry during our wait. I am sure that there are many other positive stories out there.

  11. Debbie says:

    I am currently going through the same thing. My blood work was sent to Palo Alto and it came back positive. I will have my amnio in a few weeks when I reach 18 weeks. Hoping for the best!

    • Natalia says:

      Im going thru the same situation right now. On Tuesday my blood was sent to CA, how long does it take for them to give the results? And Debbie how did it work out for you? Hoping for the best!!

    • Ed says:

      Hi Debbie,
      My wife and I are going through the same situation right now. We just found out yesterday she tested positive and she started some antibiotic. Is there anything you can share with us? We are freaking out with no viable options. She is due in December. Thanks

      • Anne says:

        Hi- How did everything work out? I am 16 weeks and am also on the antibiotic. My results were positive from Palo Alto. I right now am debating weather to get an amnio, it makes me really nervous. But this whole thing makes me really nervous. How did it work out for you?

        Thanks.

  12. Christina says:

    I’m waiting for my amnio-toxo result from Palo Alto to come in tomorrow. I’m kind of freaking out.

  13. Ed says:

    My wife and I are going through a similar experience right now and this is by far the most useful information I have come across. We are waiting on result from the lab in California and I am hoping for the best.

    Thank you immensely for putting this together,

  14. Yvette says:

    I’m 19wks with number 2 and have know I have had Toxo since 8wks, I’ve had 4 blood test done, which still show a positive reading and in 2wks I’m going for a Amnio, my quite nervous about it, but really need a answer so I can hopefully relax and enjoy this pregnancy.
    Fingers crossed.
    Yvette
    Sydney, Australia

  15. Ed says:

    On 10/13/13 we signed consent forms to start treatments as a precaution but we have no evidence that the baby has been infected at this point. The ultrasound is not showing any calcification in the brain area which is a major concern and the baby seems to be growing properly. My wife has been taking some antibacterial drug for well over a month and it may be helping in preventing the infection from crossing over to the baby. We are more hopeful now than we ever been about this pregnancy. There is a lot of anxiety associated with this condition which could cause a lot harm to the unborn baby. We will continue to keep you posted on our case but stay hopeful and discuss our options with your doctor and be proactive.

    • Anne says:

      Sorry I just read everything and saw your update thank you! Did your wife do an amnio? Did it come back negative? Was it worth it?

      Thanks so much Ed.

  16. Shehab1 says:

    I am going through the same situation but i will do amnio at 15 weeks of pregnancy is it accurate?

    • Ed says:

      Based on available information it appears to be accurate but carries a level of risk. But you may be aware of that already. I wish these labs and doctors will seek the help of infectious disease specialist that can help put things in proper context. Hope all goes well for you and the baby.

  17. Ed says:

    Baby was born today at full term and she seems to be doing fine. Some tests will be done to check for any issues. I will keep guys posted and keep us in your prayers.

    • janine says:

      Ed, thanks for the update, hope everything goes smoothly. Can you elaborate on what type of tests are being done to check if everything is okay?

  18. Ed says:

    Hi Janine,

    At the hospital they did a brain scan, hearing, vision test and the blood test as discussed in the information above. We are now seeing an infectious disease specialist and he has performed two blood tests so far and he does not believe there is any medical concerns at this point. We are being proactive but not overly concerned about the long term prognostic at this stage. Based on my conversation with the doctor he seems to believe the labs are creating a lot of false alarm and are not providing adequate information to patients about toxo and that some don’t even request the right type of test. Anyway, The numbers for my daughter (Igg, Igm and one other indicator) are declining as expected by the doctor. He continues to measure her head among other things to make sure she is developing properly. We have one test result pending right now but will update you guys once available.

  19. Ed says:

    Everything is turning out fine. There is medical concerns at this point. She will be 7 months in a few days. Thanks

  20. Ed says:

    No medical concerns… Sorry

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