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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Seroprevalence and risk factors for Toxoplasma gondii in sheep in Grosseto district, Tuscany, Italy

Beniamino T Cenci-Goga1*, Antonio Ciampelli2, Paola Sechi1, Fabrizia Veronesi1, Iolanda Moretta1, Valentina Cambiotti1 and Peter N Thompson3

Author Affiliations

1 Dipartimento di Medicina Veterinaria, Università degli Studi di Perugia, Via San Costanzo, 06121, Perugia, Italy

2 Veterinary practitioner, Tuscany, Italy

3 Epidemiology Section, Department of Production Animal Studies, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X04, Onderstepoort, 0110, South Africa

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BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9:25  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-9-25

Published: 7 February 2013

Abstract

Background

Serum samples from 630 milk sheep, in 33 dairy flocks representative of the southern area of the Tuscany region, were tested for the presence of antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii using an indirect immunofluorescence antibody test (IFAT). Questionnaires exploring the management system were completed by the veterinarian in charge of the flocks.

Results

At least one seropositive animal was found in 32 of the 33 flocks tested (97.0%; 95% CI: 84.2%, 99.9%). In the positive flocks, median seroprevalence was 29.4% (interquartile range: 15.9%-46.1%). Overall animal-level seroprevalence, adjusted for sampling weights and test sensitivity and specificity, was 33.3% (95% CI: 24.8%, 42.7%). In a multivariable negative binomial regression model the number of seropositive animals in a flock decreased with increasing flock size (for >400 vs. <300 animals: count ratio (CR) = 0.62; 95% CI: 0.41, 0.95; P = 0.028) and was greater on farms where stray cats had access to animals’ water (CR = 1.54; 95% CI: 1.05, 2.26; P = 0.027).

Conclusions

Small flock size and access of cats to water are potential risk factors for Toxoplasma infection in sheep in the Grosseto district in Tuscany, Italy. Sheep could be an important source of T. gondii infection in humans, since we estimate that between 25% and 43% of sheep in the district were seropositive. Toxoplasmosis is also likely to be an important cause of abortion in sheep in the district. Control and prophylactic measures must be adopted to improve the rearing system and the implementation of health promoting programmes in a joint effort between sheep farmers, farmers’ associations and veterinarians to inform about the means of transmission of the infection and for a better understanding of the disease.

Keywords:
Toxoplasmosis; Sheep; Prevalence; Intra-cluster correlation coefficient; IFAT; Risk factors