Submitted to: Journal of Parasitology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/3/2007
Publication Date: 6/30/2009
Citation: Dubey, J.P., Quirk, T. 2009. Experimental toxoplasma gondii infection in striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). Journal of Parasitology. 94:761-763. Interpretive Summary: Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled parasite of all warm-blooded hosts worldwide. It causes mental retardation and loss of vision in children, and abortion in livestock. Cats are the main reservoir of T. gondii because they are the only hosts that can excrete the resistant stage (oocyst) of the parasite in the feces. Humans become infected by eating undercooked meat from infected animals and food and water contaminated with oocysts. Toxoplasmosis causes mortality in many species of animals in the zoos, especially wallabies. Scientists at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and University of Saskatchewan report experimental toxoplasmosis in skunks to develop better methods for diagnosis. The results will be of interest to biologists, parasitologists, and veterinarians.
Technical Abstract: Twenty-three striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) without demonstrable antibodies in 1:25 serum dilution in the modified agglutination test (MAT) were fed sporulated Toxoplasma gondii oocysts (9 skunks) or tissue cysts (10 skunks), and 4 skunks (controls) were not given T. gondii. Skunks were bled before feeding T. gondii 10 and 23-25 days post-inoculation (PI). All 9 seronegative skunks fed oocysts died of acute toxoplasmosis between 7 and 19 days PI; T. gondii tachyzoites were found in histological sections of many tissues. One of the 10 skunks fed tissue cysts and 1 of the 4 controls also died of acute toxoplasmosis day 19 and 20 days PI; these animals probably became infected by ingestion of unexcysted oocysts passed in feces of skunks fed oocysts that were housed in the same room that skunks fed tissue cysts were housed. The remaining 9 skunk fed tissue cysts and the 3 controls developed only a mild illness and were killed in good health on days 23-25 PI. Antibodies to T. gondii were not found in 1:25 serum dilution of any of the 19 of 23 skunks that were alive on day 10 PI; 12 of 13 skunks had antibodies (MAT 1:80 or higher) on the day they were killed. Antibodies were not found in 1 skunk. Results indicate that skunks can develop IgG antibodies to T. gondii within 3 wk PI, and primary toxoplasmosis can be fatal in skunks.