Toxoplasma gondii, source to sea: Higher contribution of domestic felids to terrestrial parasite loading despite lower infection prevalence

Elizabeth Vanwormer, Patricia A Conrad, Melissa A. Miller, Ann C. Melli, Tim Carpenter, Jonna A Mazet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Scopus citations

Abstract

Environmental transmission of Toxoplasma gondii, a global zoonotic parasite, adversely impacts human and animal health. Toxoplasma is a significant cause of mortality in threatened Southern sea otters, which serve as sentinels for disease threats to people and animals in coastal environments. As wild and domestic felids are the only recognized hosts capable of shedding Toxoplasma oocysts into the environment, otter infection suggests land-to-sea pathogen transmission. To assess relative contributions to terrestrial parasite loading, we evaluated infection and shedding among managed and unmanaged feral domestic cats, mountain lions, and bobcats in coastal California, USA. Infection prevalence differed among sympatric felids, with a significantly lower prevalence for managed feral cats (17%) than mountain lions, bobcats, or unmanaged feral cats subsisting on wild prey (73-81%). A geographic hotspot of infection in felids was identified near Monterey Bay, bordering a high-risk site for otter infection. Increased odds of oocyst shedding were detected in bobcats and unmanaged feral cats. Due to their large populations, pet and feral domestic cats likely contribute more oocysts to lands bordering the sea otter range than native wild felids. Continued coastal development may influence felid numbers and distribution, increase terrestrial pathogens in freshwater runoff, and alter disease dynamics at the human-animal-environment interface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-289
Number of pages13
JournalEcoHealth
Volume10
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2013

Keywords

  • bobcats
  • feral cats
  • mountain lions
  • pathogen pollution
  • Toxoplasma gondii
  • zoonotic disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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