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Open Access Short report

Seroprevalence of Toxoplasma gondii in the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) in England and Wales

Elizabeth A Chadwick1*, Joanne Cable1, Alex Chinchen1, Janet Francis2, Edward Guy2, Eleanor F Kean1, Sarah C Paul1, Sarah E Perkins1, Ellie Sherrard-Smith1, Clare Wilkinson1 and Dan W Forman3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biosciences, Sir Martin Evans Building, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AX, UK

2 Toxoplasma Reference Unit, Public Health Wales Microbiology, Singleton Hospital, Swansea SA2 8QA, UK

3 School of the Environment and Society, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

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Parasites & Vectors 2013, 6:75  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-6-75

Published: 19 March 2013

Abstract

Background

Toxoplasma gondii is found on all continents and can infect all endothermic vertebrates. Toxoplasmosis is a globally important zoonosis with potentially devastating health impacts both for humans and a range of domestic and wild species. The World Health Organisation have repeatedly recommended the collection of accurate epidemiological data for T. gondii, yet despite recognised links between infection of wildlife, domestic animals and humans, seroprevalence in wild species is rarely monitored. Here, serological investigation using the Gold Standard Sabin-Feldman Dye Test was used to test for T. gondii in Eurasian otters (Lutra lutra) found dead, mainly as road-kill, in England and Wales. This is the first spatially widespread study of T. gondii in UK wildlife, and the first extensive survey of T. gondii in Eurasian otters, a sentinel species of fresh waters.

Findings

Infection was both common (39.5% prevalence, n = 271) and widespread, with significantly more infection in the east than the west of the UK. There was an increase in seroprevalence with age, but no sex bias.

Conclusions

The relatively high prevalence of T. gondii in a predominantly piscivorous freshwater mammal suggests widespread faecal contamination of freshwater ecosystems with oocysts. Continued surveillance of the Eurasian otter for T. gondii is valuable because of conservation concerns due to the otter’s ‘near threatened’ status on the IUCN Red List and because of the host’s role as a sentinel for freshwater health.

Keywords:
Wildlife disease; Spatial distribution; Sabin Feldman; Surveillance; Zoonosis