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Regional seroprevalence of Toxoplasma gondii antibodies in feral and stray cats (Felis catus) from Tasmania

Bronwyn A. Fancourt A C and Robert B. Jackson B

A School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 55, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.
B Biosecurity and Quarantine Services, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, PO Box 46, Kings Meadows, Tas. 7249, Australia.
C Corresponding author. Email: Bronwyn.Fancourt@utas.edu.au

Australian Journal of Zoology - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/ZO14015
Submitted: 5 March 2014  Accepted: 22 July 2014   Published online: 13 August 2014


 
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Abstract

Toxoplasma gondii is a cosmopolitan protozoan parasite of felids that also has significant implications for the health of wildlife, livestock and humans worldwide. In Australia, feral, stray and domestic cats (Felis catus) are the most important definitive host of T. gondii as they are the only species that can excrete the environmentally resistant oocysts that provide a major source of infection for mammals and birds. In Tasmania, the rapid decline of the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) may allow an increase in feral cat abundance, thereby increasing the risk of T. gondii infection to a range of susceptible wildlife species. At present, there is scant information on the prevalence of T. gondii infection in feral cat populations across Tasmania. We tested feral cats from 13 regions across Tasmania for the presence of T. gondii–specific IgG antibodies using a modified agglutination test. Results were combined with serosurveys from three previous studies to enable a comparison of seroprevalence among 14 regions across Tasmania. We found that 84.2% (224 of 266) of cats tested positive for T. gondii IgG antibodies. This is among the highest rates of prevalence recorded from Australia, and significantly higher than for most other countries. Adult cats had higher seroprevalence than kittens but there was no difference between sexes. In Tasmania, seroprevalence was high in 12 of 14 regions (range: 79.3–100.0%), with only two regions (Tasman Island and Southern Tasmania) recording significantly lower seroprevalence (≤50%). This suggests a high risk of infection across Tasmania, and has significant implications for wildlife conservation should feral cat abundance increase with the ongoing declines in Tasmanian devils.



Additional keywords: definitive host, disease, parasite, spatial variation, toxoplasmosis, zoonosis.


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