Background and methods: Toxoplasmosis is the most common opportunistic infection of the central nervous system in patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). To investigate its clinical course, we reviewed the records of 115 patients with AIDS and central nervous system toxoplasmosis treated at San Francisco General Hospital between 1981 and 1990.
Results: The most common presenting symptoms were headache (in 55 percent), confusion (52 percent), and fever (47 percent). Focal neurologic deficits were present in 79 patients (69 percent). The median CD4 cell count at presentation was 50 per cubic millimeter (50 x 10(6) per liter). Thirteen of 80 patients with clinical toxoplasmosis (16 percent) and 4 of 18 patients with pathologically proved disease (22 percent) had undetectable antitoxoplasma IgG antibodies by indirect immunofluorescence assay. Of 103 patients, 94 (91 percent) had enhancing lesions on CT. Single lesions were seen in 28 of 103 patients (27 percent) on CT, and such lesions were seen in 3 of 21 patients (14 percent) on magnetic resonance imaging. Over 90 percent of patients who eventually had clinical and radiographic improvement had evidence of improvement by day 14 of therapy. Adverse drug reactions occurred in 71 patients (62 percent) and led to a change in therapy in 50 patients (43 percent). Among the patients who survived a first episode of toxoplasmosis, the median survival was 265 days.
Conclusions: Toxoplasmosis occurs in advanced stages of human immunodeficiency virus infection, and the absence of antitoxoplasma antibodies on immunofluorescence assay does not exclude the diagnosis. The clinical and radiographic response to therapy is usually rapid, but treatment is frequently limited by adverse drug effects.