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Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid Test

Last updated July 24, 2019

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

The Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Test detects the presence of T. gondii in the CSF.

What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • Toxoplasma gondii Cerebrospinal Fluid Test
  • Toxoplasma IgG/IgM Antibodies Cerebrospinal Fluid Test
  • Toxoplasma Molecular Detection by PCR Cerebrospinal Fluid Test 

What is Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid Test? (Background Information)

  • Toxoplasmosis is a disease resulting from infection by the microscopic parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). T. gondii is very common throughout the world. In some countries, it may infect 95% of the population
  • Though usually mild, toxoplasmosis can severely affect certain individuals. In people with healthy immune systems, T. gondii may cause minor to non-existent toxoplasmosis. However, toxoplasmosis may be life-threatening in those with limited immune systems (individuals, who are immunocompromised)
  • HIV infection, cancer therapy, and immunosuppressant medications to recipients of organ transplants, can decrease the effectiveness of the immune system. These individuals are especially susceptible to severe toxoplasmosis
  • Toxoplasmosis is also extremely dangerous to unborn children. This is because, T. gondii can spread from a pregnant mother to her developing baby, whose immune system is not yet fully developed. T. gondii can cause fetal development defects and even result in a stillbirth
  • Other than pregnancy, the most common ways T. gondii gets transmitted are by eating undercooked meat, drinking contaminated water, and coming into contact with infected animals, most often cats
  • Domestic and wild cats are natural carriers of T. gondii. They acquire T. gondii eggs from their food and environment. The eggs then become active and are able to spread to other hosts, including humans
  • The eggs can reside in an individual for extended periods of time without causing infection. When they sense that the host’s immune system has been weakened, the eggs may “hatch”, releasing T. gondii that may cause toxoplasmosis

The Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) Test detects the presence of T. gondii in the CSF. It can do this in two different ways:

  • Detection of specific antibodies created by the immune system upon exposure to T. gondii. The presence of T. gondii-specific IgM antibodies indicates recent or current exposure. The presence of T. gondii-specific IgG antibodies indicates a past exposure
  • Detection of genetic material belonging to T. gondii: A technique called PCR is used to detect traces of specific DNA that T. gondii is known to possess 

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing the Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid Test:

  • Exposure of a pregnant woman to wild or domestic cats
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Altered mental status
  • Visual problems
  • Enlarged liver or spleen 

How is the Specimen Collected for Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid Test:

Sample required: Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)

Process: Insertion of a thick needle into the lower back (a process known as lumbar puncture).

Preparation required: Special preparation is needed prior to the test. 

What is the Significance of the Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid Test Result?

  • A positive Toxoplasmosis Cerebrospinal Fluid Test may indicate infection by Toxoplasma gondii

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario. 

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • The Toxoplasmosis Test is included in the TORCH panel of tests. The TORCH panel is a series of tests for common infections that can be transmitted from a mother to her unborn child. The TORCH panel also includes tests for rubella, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex virus type 2
  • In the United States, nearly one-quarter of individuals over the age of 12 years, may harbor T. gondii 

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider, the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Nov. 9, 2014
Last updated: July 24, 2019