Prevalence and molecular characterization of Toxoplasma gondii in different types of poultry in Greece, associated risk factors and co-existence with Eimeria spp.
Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite of public health importance, infecting all warm-blooded animals, including chickens. Undercooked chicken meat or relevant products such as sausages could lead to human infections. In free-range, organic and slow-growth farming systems where the susceptibility period for chickens is extended, more knowledge about potential risk factors is essential. This study is the first seroepidemiological survey in different regions and types of chicken farms in Greece, using a major tachyzoite surface antigen-based ELISA (TgSAG1), combined with magnetic-capture PCR (mc-PCR) and bioassay for the isolation of strains from the chickens’ tissues. Potential risk factors for T. gondii infection in these hosts were also investigated. Additionally, the co-existence of T. gondii and Eimeria spp. infections was assessed to elucidate epidemiological links between these two protozoan infections. Overall T. gondii seroprevalence was 9.5%. Of the backyard chickens sampled, 41.2% were seropositive and 70% of the organic and free-range layer farms had at least one T. gondii seropositive hen. No serologically positive broilers were found, although mc-PCR revealed a positive sample, highlighting the importance of accurate early-infection direct detection of T. gondii infections to ensure public health. T. gondii isolates obtained by mouse bioassay were genotyped. All belonged to type II (ToxoDB#3) as confirmed also by microsatellite typing. Production system, type of nutrition, and feeding system automation were identified as the most significant risk factors, while no association was found between the presence of cats and T. gondii seropositivity as calculated on both a farm level and per individual bird sampled.