Transmission dynamics of Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite of importance for wildlife and human health, are enigmatic in the Arctic tundra, where free-ranging wild and domestic felid definitive hosts are absent and rarely observed, respectively. Through a multiyear mark-recapture study (2011–17), serosurveillance was conducted to investigate transmission of T. gondii in Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) in the Karrak Lake region, Nunavut, Canada. Sera from adult foxes and fox pups were tested for antibodies to T. gondii by using serologic methods, including the indirect fluorescent antibody test, direct agglutination test, and modified agglutination test. The overall seroprevalence was 39% in adults and 17% in pups. Mature foxes were more likely to be exposed (seroconvert) than young foxes (less than 1 yr old), with the highest level of seroprevalence in midaged foxes (2–4 yr old). Pups in two different litters were seropositive on emergence from the den, around 5 wk old, which could have been due to passive transfer of maternal antibody or vertical transmission of T. gondii from mother to offspring. The seropositive pups were born of seropositive mothers that were also seropositive the year before they gave birth, suggesting that vertical transmission might not be limited to litters from mothers exposed to T. gondii for the first time in pregnancy. All recaptured seropositive foxes remained seropositive on subsequent captures, suggesting that antibodies persist or foxes are constantly reexposed or a combination of both. The results of this study provided insights into how foxes were likely exposed to T. gondii, the dynamics of antibody persistence and immune response, and how the parasite was maintained in a terrestrial Arctic ecosystem in the absence of felid definitive hosts.
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Vol. 55 • No. 3