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Protozoa: Structure, Classification, Growth, and Development.

Authors

Yaeger RG.

Editors

In: Baron S, editor.

Source

Medical Microbiology. 4th edition. Galveston (TX): University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; 1996. Chapter 77.

Excerpt

The Protozoa are considered to be a subkingdom of the kingdom Protista, although in the classical system they were placed in the kingdom Animalia. More than 50,000 species have been described, most of which are free-living organisms; protozoa are found in almost every possible habitat. The fossil record in the form of shells in sedimentary rocks shows that protozoa were present in the Pre-cambrian era. Anton van Leeuwenhoek was the first person to see protozoa, using microscopes he constructed with simple lenses. Between 1674 and 1716, he described, in addition to free-living protozoa, several parasitic species from animals, and Giardia lamblia from his own stools. Virtually all humans have protozoa living in or on their body at some time, and many persons are infected with one or more species throughout their life. Some species are considered commensals, i.e., normally not harmful, whereas others are pathogens and usually produce disease. Protozoan diseases range from very mild to life-threatening. Individuals whose defenses are able to control but not eliminate a parasitic infection become carriers and constitute a source of infection for others. In geographic areas of high prevalence, well-tolerated infections are often not treated to eradicate the parasite because eradication would lower the individual's immunity to the parasite and result in a high likelihood of reinfection. Many protozoan infections that are inapparent or mild in normal individuals can be life-threatening in immunosuppressed patients, particularly patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Evidence suggests that many healthy persons harbor low numbers of Pneumocystis carinii in their lungs. However, this parasite produces a frequently fatal pneumonia in immunosuppressed patients such as those with AIDS. Toxoplasma gondii, a very common protozoan parasite, usually causes a rather mild initial illness followed by a long-lasting latent infection. AIDS patients, however, can develop fatal toxoplasmic encephalitis. Cryptosporidium was described in the 19th century, but widespread human infection has only recently been recognized. Cryptosporidium is another protozoan that can produce serious complications in patients with AIDS. Microsporidiosis in humans was reported in only a few instances prior to the appearance of AIDS. It has now become a more common infection in AIDS patients. As more thorough studies of patients with AIDS are made, it is likely that other rare or unusual protozoan infections will be diagnosed. Acanthamoeba species are free-living amebas that inhabit soil and water. Cyst stages can be airborne. Serious eye-threatening corneal ulcers due to Acanthamoeba species are being reported in individuals who use contact lenses. The parasites presumably are transmitted in contaminated lens-cleaning solution. Amebas of the genus Naegleria, which inhabit bodies of fresh water, are responsible for almost all cases of the usually fatal disease primary amebic meningoencephalitis. The amebas are thought to enter the body from water that is splashed onto the upper nasal tract during swimming or diving. Human infections of this type were predicted before they were recognized and reported, based on laboratory studies of Acanthamoeba infections in cell cultures and in animals. The lack of effective vaccines, the paucity of reliable drugs, and other problems, including difficulties of vector control, prompted the World Health Organization to target six diseases for increased research and training. Three of these were protozoan infections—malaria, trypanosomiasis, and leishmaniasis. Although new information on these diseases has been gained, most of the problems with control persist.

Copyright © 1996, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

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