13 September 2018

New blood test spots parasitic infection in pregnant women

The transmission of the toxoplasmosis parasite puts the foetus at risk for severe birth defects and death.

A low-cost blood test can identify pregnant women with the parasitic infection toxoplasmosis, researchers report.

People typically acquire the Toxoplasma gondii parasite by eating undercooked contaminated meat or through exposure to infected cat faeces. And an infected pregnant woman can pass it to her foetus.

The transmission of the parasite puts the foetus at risk for severe birth defects and death, so tests for the infection during pregnancy are crucial. But current blood tests are expensive and require special equipment that may not be available in developing countries.

New point-of-care test

Researchers tested the new blood test on 205 women in Chicago and Morocco who were known to be infected with the parasite. The test was highly accurate in detecting infection, even in those with low levels of antibodies to the parasite, the findings showed.

However, the test could not distinguish between acute and chronic infections, according to the study, which was published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

"Our work establishes a new point-of-care test in the outpatient setting at very low cost, enabling diagnosis and prompt treatment for toxoplasma infections acquired for the first time during pregnancy," Rima McLeod, from the University of Chicago, and colleagues wrote in a journal news release.

"This enables life-, sight- and cognition-saving treatments. If combined with multiplexed testing for other congenital infections and markers associated with premature birth, it will markedly improve maternal-child outcomes and save lives," the study authors concluded.

Image credit: iStock


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