Prevalence of IgG antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii in veterinary and undergraduate students at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia.
Toxoplasma gondii is a globally distributed parasitic protozoan that infects humans and other warm-blooded vertebrates. Felids are the only definitive host for T. gondii, and they excrete oocysts in their faeces. The national prevalence in humans is declining in the United States. This zoonotic organism is of particular interest due to its importance in pregnant women, in individuals with altered immune systems, and in reactivated ocular infections. Exposure to the parasite in humans is usually associated with consumption of raw or undercooked meat or by accidental ingestion of oocysts. It was hypothesized that veterinary students would have a greater chance at exposure to the parasite than an average population of undergraduate students due to increased contact with cats who are infected. A commercially available ELISA was used to examine serum samples from 336 students (252 veterinary students and 84 undergraduate students) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine for serum IgG antibodies to T. gondii antigen. The prevalence of T. gondii in these subjects was 5.6% in veterinary school students (n=252) and 2.4% in undergraduates (n=84). There was no significant difference (P>0.05) in the prevalence of T. gondii antibodies in veterinary versus undergraduate students. The overall prevalence of 4.8% in all students in this study reflects the continuing decline of antibodies to T. gondii in humans in the United States.