Toxoplasma gondii infection and toxoplasmosis in farm animals: Risk factors and economic impact
The protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii is a zoonotic parasite that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Felids, including domestic cats, are definitive hosts that can shed oocysts with their feces. In addition to infections that occur by accidental oral uptake of food or water contaminated with oocysts, it is assumed that a large proportion of affected humans may have become infected by consuming meat or other animal products that contained infective parasitic stages of T. gondii. Since farm animals represent a direct source of infection for humans, but also a possible reservoir for the parasite, it is important to control T. gondii infections in livestock. Moreover, T. gondii may also be pathogenic to livestock where it could be responsible for considerable economic losses in some regions and particular farming systems, e.g. in areas where the small ruminant industry is relevant. This review aims to summarize actual knowledge on the prevalence and effects of infections with T. gondii in the most important livestock species and on the effects of toxoplasmosis on livestock. It also provides an overview on potential risk factors favoring infections of livestock with T. gondii. Knowledge on potential risk factors is prerequisite to implement effective biosecurity measures on farms to prevent T. gondii infections. Risk factors identified by many studies are cat-related, but also those associated with a potential contamination of fodder or water, and with access to a potentially contaminated environment. Published information on the costs T. gondii infections cause in livestock production, is scarce. The most recent peer reviewed reports from Great Britain and Uruguay suggest annual cost of about 5–15 million US $ per country. Since these estimates are outdated, future studies are needed to estimate the present costs due to toxoplasmosis in livestock. Further, the fact that T. gondii infections in livestock may affect human health needs to be considered and the respective costs should also be estimated. But this is beyond the scope of this article.