An experimental feeding study was designed to assess the role of earthworms in the transmission of Toxoplasma gondii infection to eastern barred bandicoots (Perameles gunnii). Six animals with no agglutinating antibodies to T. gondii were fed artificially cultured earthworms that had been maintained in autoclaved nutrient-enriched soil. Two animals were given earthworms that had been maintained in soil contaminated with T. gondii oocysts (P89/VEG strain); two animals were fed on earthworms, which initially had been exposed to soil containing T. gondii oocysts then transferred through three changes of sterile soil; two control bandicoots were fed earthworms maintained in sterile soil. Both bandicoots fed earthworms maintained in T. gondii contaminated soil died 11 and 14 days after feeding. The necropsy findings were consistent with acute toxoplasmosis. Bandicoots fed earthworms exposed to oocysts but then transferred through changes of sterilized soil remained healthy as did control animals. All surviving animals remained seronegative over the 6 wk observation period after feeding. These findings confirm that earthworms, a major component of the natural diet of P. gunnii, can transmit T. gondii infection. It appears that oocysts present in the alimentary tracts of the worms, rather than infective stages of T. gondii in worm somatic tissues, are responsible for these infections.
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