When genetic counsellors say “Ashkenazi Jew” they basically mean “all jews”. I’m not even sure why they make the distinction, as all jews (except for those descending from Spain and Portugal) can trace their heritage back to ashkenazi roots. So just because you’ve never heard the term ‘Ashkenazi’, or you don’t believe you have Eastern European relatives, does not mean that you are not at risk for carrying these diseases, if you have Jewish background.
@MrsWBS: You don’t have to have Jewish background, anybody could be a carrier for Tay Sachs, it’s just more prevalent in Jewish people.
@crayfish: Jewish people are actually slightly less likely than Caucasians to be carriers for cystic fibrosis – I believe the carrier rate for Caucasians is about 1/25 or 1/30.
@MrsPuddingface: For Tay Sachs, or CF, or any of the other genetic diseases on the “Ashkenazi Jew panel”, they are what is known as autosomal recessive. This means that both parents have to have the gene for the disease in order for their children to inherit the disease, and there is a 25% chance, for each of their children, that they will be born with the disease. Not quite as high as 50, but still a high enough chance that I would want to know my (and my husband’s) carrier status.
Let’s say big A is the gene for ‘not the disease’, little a is the gene for ‘disease’:
Child: 25% chance it is AA (not a carrier, no disease)
25% chance it is Aa (carrier, but does not have disease)
another 25% chance it is Aa (carrier, but does not have disease)
25% chance it is aa (has the disease)
It’s good to know your carrier status, so you can make an educated decision about whether to get further testing (amnio), either so you can be prepared for the possibility of having a child with a disease, or so you can choose to terminate the pregnancy.
OP, your husband should get tested for the whole panel of Jewish genetic diseases, not just Tay-Sachs (if you want to know this information). Odds are your children will be fine, especially if you don’t have the same genetic background yourself, but it’s good to know. My husband and I each have a Jewish grandparent so we both got the whole panel of testing, as well as testing for CF.
For anyone who wants to know this information but is facing prohibitive costs, and it isn’t covered by your health insurance, check out ’23andMe’. It’s a private company that offers genetic testing and it only costs $99 to get tested for pretty much everything that can even be tested for.