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The University of Chicago Medicine has developed a unique center to help babies, children and adults affected by toxoplasmosis. It is one of the only centers in the world that offers comprehensive, lifelong care to people of all ages coping with the adverse effects of congenital toxoplasmosis and other Toxoplasma gondii infections. We have been working with some of the same patients for more than 25 years. For patients with toxoplasmosis, we offer the latest treatment options to improve their quality of life.
At UChicago Medicine, a multidisciplinary team cares for patients with toxoplasmosis, adults with acute acquired infection, immunologically suppressed patients, patients with eye disease, pregnant women and their fetuses affected by toxoplasmosis, and infants and children with congenital toxoplasmosis. The team that cares for congenitally infected children includes an infectious disease specialist, a pediatric neurologist, a pediatric ophthalmologist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and many other professionals. Working with a woman’s obstetrician, we can help guide diagnosis and treatment options for the patient and her baby. We offer patients with toxoplasmosis the latest treatment options.
Directed by an internationally recognized and award-winning toxoplasmosis specialist, our center is dedicated to finding ways to prevent and treat this disease. Over the years, we have led national, multicenter studies to understand how T. gondii causes disease. We are leading a multi-center team that is studying new approaches to treating acute and chronic toxoplasmosis infection. Additional research into vaccines, new medicines, genetics of susceptibility and resistance and other basic aspects of this infection and the parasite that causes it is under way.
Toxoplasma gondii, a small parasite less than the size of a human cell, causes the disease toxoplasmosis. T. gondii infects approximately one-third to one-half of all people worldwide. People can acquire the parasite when they eat meat that is not thoroughly cooked.
It is also possible to acquire the parasite directly or indirectly from a domestic cat (or another member of the cat family, such as a bobcat). An acutely infected cat excretes millions of T. gondii in a dormant form called an oocyst. Even one of these oocysts can cause infection and can remain infectious in water for up to six months or in warm, moist soil for up to a year. An oocyst may remain on anything that touches it. For example, it may be transferred from a cat to garden soil to a vegetable in the garden and finally to someone who eats the vegetable. It is not uncommon for someone to become infected by T. gondii without knowing the source of the infection.
T. gondii can live in the body in dormant form and can cause toxoplasmosis if a person becomes immunocompromised from conditions such as cancer, autoimmune diseases, AIDS or transplantation and associated treatments. It also can resurface and cause eye disease in congenitally infected children later in life and in some older children and adults who were infected after birth.
If a mother is infected for the first time while she is pregnant and passes the parasite to her child, the baby can suffer eye or brain damage. Babies infected with T. gondii while in the womb are said to have congenital toxoplasmosis. Treatment can prevent transmission of the parasite from mother to child. When diagnosed and treated early, treatment can also prevent the infection's adverse effects for a baby or for older persons with brain or eye disease.
Older children and adults who become infected may not have symptoms, or they may develop a flu-like illness or enlarged lymph glands. In rare cases, older children and adults who are infected develop other conditions such as brain or heart inflammation.
Medicines currently used to treat toxoplasmosis have side effects. No medicines currently available can eliminate the dormant parasites from the body, so toxoplasmosis may recur. However, there is promise for both improved medicines and a vaccine. A chronically infected mother's immune response (if she is not immunocompromised) prevents her from transmitting the parasite to her baby. Researchers are encouraged by this response and are seeking a vaccine that will elicit a similar protective immune response to prevent infection. There is also encouraging progress being made toward discovery of improved medicines.
Our mission is to provide the most expert care for people at all stages of life who are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes the disease toxoplasmosis, and to advance research efforts in preventing and treating infection from the parasite Toxoplasma gondii that causes toxoplasmosis.
July 18, 2016: In the July 14 edition of Scientific Reports (Nature), 39 researchers from 14 leading institutions in the United States, United Kingdom and France suggest novel approaches that could hasten the development of better medications for people suffering from toxoplasmosis.