Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, & Isospora Species & Microsporidia

Within the last decade, the AIDS epidemic has heightened awareness of several gastrointestinal spore-forming protozoan pathogens. The genera Cryptosporidium, Isospora, and Cyclospora are members of the subclass Coccidia and phylum Apicomplexa; the microsporidia are a group of organisms belonging to the phylum Microspora.

Microsporidia

Microsporidia were first discovered in 1857, but it was not until 1973 that a human case of microsporidiosis was confirmed from a case described in 1959. Awareness of the diversity of microsporidial infections has heightened, especially in light of the AIDS epidemic. Central nervous system, respiratory, corneal, muscular, and gastrointestinal microsporidial infections have all been identified. Microsporidiosis has been found worldwide.

Isospora

Isospora infection is endemic in several tropical and subtropical climates in areas of South America, Africa, and southwest Asia. In the United States, Isospora belli infection occurs primarily in patients with AIDS but is still quite rare in this population, accounting for = 0.2% of AIDS-defining illnesses. Isospora infection is more common in patients with AIDS from developing countries in which the prevalence of spore passage is 15% compared with 5% in industrialized nations.

Pathogenic Amebas

There are numerous distinct species of ameba within the genus Entamoeba, and the majority of these do not cause disease in humans. E histolytica is a pathogenic species that is capable of causing disease, such as colitis or liver abscess, in humans. E dispar is prevalent and is indistinguishable from E histolytica by conventional laboratory methods. E dispar exists in humans in only an asymptomatic carrier state and does not cause colitis.

Intestinal Disease

Of patients infected with E histolytica, > 90% are asymptomatic carriers who are colonized with the organism and pass cysts in the stool. This carrier state often resolves without treatment, although relapses and reinfection are common.

Toxoplasma Gondii

Toxoplasma gondii infection, or toxoplasmosis, is a zoonosis (the definitive hosts are members of the cat family). The two most common routes of infection in humans are by oral ingestion of the parasite and by transplacental (congenital) transmission to the fetus. Ingestion of undercooked or raw meat that contains cysts or of water or food contaminated with oocysts results in acute infection.

Toxoplasma Gondii: Treatment

Immunocompetent adults and children with toxoplasmic lymphadenitis do not require treatment unless symptoms are severe or persistent. Infections acquired by laboratory accident or transfusion of blood products are potentially more severe, and these patients should always be treated. The combination of pyrimethamine, sulfadiazine, and folinic acid for 4-6 weeks is the most commonly used and recommended drug regimen (Box 2).