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Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular protozoan parasite that is capable of infecting a variety of intermediate hosts including humans. Infected definitive hosts (cats) shed oocysts in feces that rapidly mature in the soil and become infectious. Toxoplasmosis is acquired by humans through ingestion of food or water contaminated with cat feces or through eating undercooked meat containing viable oocysts. Vertical transmission of the parasite through the placenta can also occur, leading to congenital toxoplasmosis. Following primary infection, Toxoplasma gondii can remain latent for the life of the host; the risk for reactivation is highest among immunosuppressed individuals. Severe-to-fatal infections can occur among patients with AIDS or individuals that are otherwise immunosuppressed. These infections are thought to be caused by reactivation of latent infections and commonly involved the central nervous system.
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