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Findings on Dangerous Parasite, Toxoplasma Gondii Published

Montana State University researchers and their collaborators are gaining widespread attention for discoveries involving// a common parasite that can threaten everyone from babies to AIDS patients.

Their findings about Toxoplasma gondii and toxoplasmosis were published recently in three major scientific journals. Nature published a paper in its advanced online version.

"It's not often you get such a cluster of papers coming out," said Michael White, one of the authors and an MSU professor of veterinary molecular biology. He added that MSU researchers will have another opportunity to explain the studies when they host an international conference on toxoplasmosis at Chico Hot Springs.

Toxoplasmosis is normally associated with medical advice that pregnant women avoid changing cat litter, but it's gaining new attention because of the AIDS epidemic and bioterrorism, the researchers said. Severe toxoplasmosis can cause AIDS patients to go into a deep dementia and become unconscious of their surroundings.

"It's one of the worst syndromes an AIDS patient can die from," said Jay Radke, another of the MSU authors.

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Symptoms usually appear only in people with weakened immune systems, but on rare occasions, healthy people suffer serious eye and central nervous system problems from toxoplasmosis. Their babies can have birth defects. White said toxoplasmosis also may be linked to some cases of schizophrenia and bipolar disease. It can kill livestock and has devastated efforts to restore sea otters near Monterey, Calif. Because it's common, yet complex, toxoplasmosis is a potential weapon for bioterrorists.

People usually acquire toxoplasmosis by eating commercial meat or drinking water that's contaminated with Toxoplasma gondii, White said. They can also pick it up by handling soil or anything that has come in contact with cat feces.
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