Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. In most instances, human infection occurs after the parasite is ingested. The majority of people infected have no symptoms, but the disease has the potential to cause serious problems in some people, especially in those who are immunodepressed and in pregnant women. If symptoms develop, they are flu-like (for example, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, malaise) and may last for a few weeks. Less frequently, severe infections can lead to eye problems, brain impairments, seizures, and rarely, death. Certain drugs, alone and in combination, can be used to treat toxoplasmosis. Many people in the U.S. and in other developed countries develop infections from eating infected meat or inadvertent ingestion of cat or kitten feces. Prevention of this disease mainly centers on avoiding human contact with undercooked, contaminated meat and contact with cat or kitten feces. The organism was first observed in rodents in 1908. Toxoplasma was noted to cause congenital infection (meaning passed from mother to fetus during pregnancy) in the 1930s and became widely recognized as a cause of disease in immunodepressed people in the late 1960s. More infections were noted beginning in 1983 when people with HIV/AIDS developed Toxoplasma encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The CDC considers toxoplasmosis to be the third most common cause of food-borne deaths in the U.S. and estimates about 60 million people in the U.S. carry the parasite. Most infected people have an immune system that suppresses the parasites, so the vast majority of people show no symptoms. However, if the immune system becomes depressed, the parasites can cause serious disease.
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