Toxoplasma gondii is the causative agent of the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis, which is an important foodborne zoonosis. Eating undercooked meat of infected animals, including pigs, has been considered the major transmission route of T. gondii to humans. Therefore, it is urgent to develop and implement intervention measures in the pork meat chain to reduce risks of acquiring a T. gondii infection. Proposed measures for control of T. gondii in pigs include serological testing of pigs and audits of pig farms on risk factors for T. gondii infection. So far, these ideas have not been tested in practice. In order to generate knowledge about the epidemiology and seroprevalence of T. gondii, as a basis for developing a surveillance system, we studied the long term seroprevalence over years, farming systems and regions, and seasonal patterns of T. gondii seroprevalence in Dutch slaughter pigs. During a five year study period from 2012 to 2016, serum samples were routinely collected in five Dutch pig slaughterhouses. The sera were tested in an ELISA for the presence of antibodies against Toxoplasma. In total 226,340 serum samples were collected and tested during the study period. The observed seroprevalence varied over years, with the highest overall seroprevalence in 2014 (2.8%) and the lowest in 2016 (1.4%). A higher seroprevalence was observed in pigs from organic farms compared to pigs from conventional farms. The overall risk of infection was on average 2.63 times significantly (p < 0.001) higher for organically raised pigs than for conventionally raised pigs. A seasonal pattern in seroprevalence was observed: the results showed a dominant annual periodicity with a seroprevalence peak in winter around week 1 and a minimum seroprevalence in summer around week 27. To our knowledge, this is the first large scale study on the seroprevalence of T. gondii in slaughter pigs. In comparison to other European serological studies, the observed seroprevalence seems to be relatively low. However, care is needed when comparing the results with other studies because of differences in test setup, the number of samples and time period of sampling. The results can be used as a starting point for developing a surveillance system for T. gondii, and for implementation of intervention measures.
- Seasonal patterns
- Toxoplasma gondii