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Toxoplasma Gondii Spreading Throughout Iberian Lynx Habitat

April 6, 2010

An international team led by researchers from the University of Cordoba (UCO) has analyzed seroprevalence (antibodies to a disease) of Toxoplasma Gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis in many species, including humans. This latest study reveals that the parasite is widespread in areas where the wild Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) lives, and also in captive breeding centers. Scientists are now undertaking further research into the disease itself.

Wild felids are important for maintaining the sylvatic cycle of Toxoplasma gondii, but there is little information about the epidemiology and risk factors associated with infection in most of these animals. This is the case of the Iberian Lynx, the most endangered felid species in the world and the most endangered carnivore in Europe. While no cases of clinical toxoplasmosis have been reported in the Iberian Lynx, mortality associated to Toxoplasma gondii infection has been recorded in bobcats (Lynx rufus).

“Results reveal that Toxoplasma gondii are widespread among a large population of Iberian Lynx”, the main author of the study and Animal Health researcher at the UCO Ignacio García Bocanegra told SINC.

The research, published at the beginning of this year in the scientific journal Veterinary Parasitology, also shows that four felids born in captivity had come into contact with the parasite during the period of study, from 2005 to 2009, which confirms the presence of T. gondii in captive breeding centers.

“For this reason, steps should be taken to prevent T. gondii infection in such centers,” García Bocanegra warned. He advises analyzing the rabbits to be used to feed the lynx first, as they are the main source of infection.

Record Number of Felids Analyzed

This is not the first study to analyze the seroprevalence of Toxoplasma gondii in the Iberian Lynx, but it is the most complete. The researchers analyzed 129 samples of Iberian Lynx using the modified agglutination test (detection of antibodies to T. gondii in serum samples) and found antibodies in 62.8%, that is, in 81 of the 129 felids analyzed.

Apart from ascertaining that the seroprevalence of T. gondii increases as animals age, results also reveal similar levels of seroprevalence among both free-ranging (66.7% of 93) and wild-caught captive Lynx (69% of 84). However, seroprevalence “was lower in captive-born Lynx (22.5% of 40)”, the researcher underlined.

The study also reported a relationship between Cytauxzoon felis infection and seroprevalence of T. gondii, but “Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) infection was not seen to influence T. gondii seroprevalence (53.8% of 13)”, the researcher states.

The team found no significant differences in seroprevalence between sexes, geographic region or the year of sample collection.

A Disease that Affects Warm-blooded Species

Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic disease that above all affects warm-blooded species, including humans. The final hosts of this parasite are cats, the only animals capable of fecally excreting the parasites.

However, researchers did not find these parasites in the feces of “any of the 58 Lynx analyzed”, García Bocanegra stated.

References: García-Bocanegra, I; Dubey, J.P.; Martínez, F.; Vargas, A.; Cabez³n, O.; Zorrilla, I.; Arenas, A.; Almería, S. “Factors affecting seroprevalence of Toxoplasma gondii in the endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus)” Veterinary Parasitology 167(1): 36-42, 20 de enero de 2010.

Image Caption: This is the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus). Credit: Program Ex-situ Conservation of the Iberian lynx

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