Background: Toxoplasma gondii is prevalent in most areas of the world and may cause abortions or neonatal complications in humans. As the only definitive host, cats play an important role in the epidemiology of the disease. Infection rates in cats, especially stray or free-living cats, are considered to be the best sentinels of the level of T. gondii in the environment. The T. gondii infection can be diagnosed in different ways with different methods depending on the target. However, little information on T. gondii infection in cats was available in Shanghai, China. Moreover reports on prevalence of circulating antigens, antibodies and DNA of T. gondii in the same study are rare.
Methods: In the present study, the presence of antibodies (Ab), circulating antigens (CA), and/or DNA of Toxoplasma gondii in samples from 145 stray or unwanted cats from 6 animal shelters in Shanghai (China) was determined in order to estimate the prevalence of T. gondii infection, by Ab-ELISA, CA-ELISA, and nested-PCR, respectively.
Results: The positive rates for the antibodies, circulating antigen and DNA of T. gondii were 11.7% (17 of 145), 5.5% (8 of 145) and 5.71% (2 of 35), respectively. No cat tested was positive by both the Ab-ELISA and the CA-ELISA, but the results of the PCR were consistent with the CA-ELISA assay. Therefore, the overall estimated prevalence of toxoplasmosis was 17.2% (25 of 145). According to our results, the positive rates of specific antibodies and circulating antigen of T. gondii were significantly different between adult cats (>1 year old) and juvenile cats (≤1 year old); the former was 13.5% versus 3.9% by Ab-ELISA, while the latter was 1.7% versus 23.1% by CA-ELISA. From the results obtained with all three detection methods used in this study, the rate of infection was not significantly different between male and female cats (P ≥0.05); and the overall rate was 17.9% for males versus 16.4% for females.
Conclusions: The results suggest that detection of circulating antigens (CA) is necessary in surveys of T. gondii infection, especially for juvenile cats. Our investigation revealed that the prevalence of T. gondii infection in stray cats in Shanghai is high. Control programs are needed for stray cat populations in order to reduce the risk of zoonotic transmission of toxoplasmosis to other domestic animals and humans, especially females.