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Recent aspects on epidemiology, clinical disease, and genetic diversity of Toxoplasma gondii infections in Australasian marsupials

Jitender P. Dubey, Fernando H. A. Murata, Camila K. Cerqueira-Cézar, Oliver C. H. Kwok, Chunlei Su, Michael E. Grigg
Parasites & vectors 2021 v.14 no.1 pp. 301
DNA, Japan, Toxoplasma gondii, Vombatus ursinus, epidemiology, genetic variation, genotype, genotyping, habitats, lifestyle, meat, mortality, slaughter, toxoplasmosis, Argentina, Australia, Chile, China, Germany, Hungary, New Zealand, Spain
BACKGROUND: Toxoplasma gondii infections are common in humans and animals worldwide. Among all intermediate hosts of T. gondii, captive marsupials from Australia and New Zealand are highly susceptible to clinical toxoplasmosis. However, most free-range marsupials establish chronic T. gondii infection. Infected marsupial meat may serve as a source of T. gondii infection for humans. Differences in mortality patterns in different species of kangaroos and other marsupials are not fully understood. Lifestyle, habitat, and the genotype of T. gondii are predicted to be risk factors. For example, koalas are rarely exposed to T. gondii because they live on treetops whereas wallabies on land are frequently exposed to infection. METHODS: The present review summarizes worldwide information on the prevalence of clinical and subclinical infections, epidemiology, and genetic diversity of T. gondii infecting Australasian marsupials in their native habitat and among exported animals over the past decade. The role of genetic types of T. gondii and clinical disease is discussed. RESULTS: Fatal toxoplasmosis has been diagnosed in captive Australasian marsupials in Argentina, Chile, China, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Spain, Turkey, and the USA. Most deaths occurred because of disseminated toxoplasmosis. Genetic characterization of T. gondii strains isolated from fatal marsupial infections identified Type III as well as atypical, nonclonal genotypes. Fatal toxoplasmosis was also diagnosed in free-ranging wombats (Vombatus ursinus) in Australia. Genetic characterization of DNA amplified directly from host tissues of subclinical culled kangaroos at slaughter identified many mixed-strain infections with both atypical and recombinant genotypes of T. gondii. CONCLUSIONS: Most Australasian marsupials in their native land, Australia and New Zealand, have high prevalence of T. gondii, and kangaroo meat can be a source of infection for humans if consumed uncooked/undercooked. The genotypes prevalent in kangaroos in Australia and New Zealand were genetically distinct from those isolated or genotyped from most macropods in the USA and other countries. Thus, clinical toxoplasmosis in marsupials imported from Australia is most likely to occur from infections acquired after importation.