Skip to main content

Impact of environmental factors on the emergence, transmission and distribution of Toxoplasma gondii


Toxoplasma gondii is an obligate intracellular protozoan that poses a great threat to human health and economic well-being worldwide. The effects of environmental factors such as changing climate and human activities on the ecology of this protozoan are being discovered. Accumulated evidence shows that changes of these environmental factors can exert influence on the occurrence, transmission and distribution of T. gondii. This article reviews studies from different geographical regions with varying climates, social cultures and animal welfare standards. It aims to illustrate how these environmental factors work, highlighting their importance in influencing the ecology of T. gondii, as well as providing clues which may contribute to preventing transmission of this important zoonotic pathogen.


Toxoplasmosis is a globally distributed, water- and food-borne zoonosis caused by the unique protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, an organism that infects all warm-blood vertebrates including humans and birds [1]. An estimated one-third of the world’s population is infected by this pathogen [2]. T. gondii infects its hosts via three main pathways: ingestion of tissue cysts in undercooked meat, ingestion of oocysts in the environment, and congenital transmission from an infected mother to her fetus during pregnancy. Infection with T. gondii is typically asymptomatic and causes a life-long latent infection in healthy individuals. A more serious problem is that chronic infection can be reactivated and cause toxoplasmic encephalitis or death in subsequently immunocompromised hosts, such as AIDS patients [3]. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that chronic infections caused by T. gondii are likely associated with certain psychiatric disorders in human beings [4, 5]. Furthermore, T. gondii infection may result in severe and life-threatening consequences in the developing fetus or newborn, including miscarriage, congenital blindness, hydrocephalus, mental retardation, and even death [6].

Changing environmental conditions, whether caused by rapid urbanization, global warming or economic globalization, have already changed the emergence, transmission and distribution of parasitic diseases including toxoplasmosis [7]. The ecology of T. gondii, with its complex life-cycle, is susceptible to environmental change mainly through the survival time and infectivity of oocysts, as well as the behavior and population density of hosts [8]. However, the mechanisms by which these factors affect the spread of T. gondii are not fully understood. We therefore reviewed the literature to determine the environmental factors affecting the emergence, transmission and distribution of T. gondii.

The life-cycle of T. gondii

T. gondii is a protozoan parasite whose complex life-cycle includes sexual replication in the only definitive host, the felid, and asexual propagation in various other warm-blooded animals [1]. When felids ingest foods contaminated by infectious oocysts, tissue cysts or pseudocysts, sporozoites, bradyzoites or tachyzoites are released. The released organisms penetrate the enterocytes of cats and transform intracellularly into multinucleated schizonts after 3 to 7 days post-infection. The subsequent schizogony of sexual development (replication) occurs within the epithelial cells of the small intestine of felids, where schizonts mature and develop into microgametes (male) and macrogametes (female) after several generations [9, 10]. A diploid zygote that will develop into an oocyst forms after a female gamete is fertilized by a male gamete [11]. Unsporulated oocysts are expelled into the environment with the feces in high numbers and become sporulated and infectious; under favourable conditions, an oocyst yields two sporocysts containing four haploid sporozoites [12].

Asexual development begins in the small intestine of hosts when sporulated oocysts in the environment, or the tissue cysts of animal bodies, are ingested by any of a wide range of warm-blood animals, including cats. At first, sporozoites or bradyzoites are released from oocysts or tissues cysts; they penetrate into enterocytes and develop into tachyzoites, which multiply rapidly in any nucleated cells. These protozoans then travel throughout the body via blood or lymph, so that tissue cysts form in immunopotent individuals, causing a chronic stage of the asexual cycle. Cysts are mainly distributed in the brain, skeletal muscles and cardiac muscles of hosts [1, 10]. Once ingested by intermediate hosts such as dogs, pigs, rodents or humans, the cysts are digested by proteolytic enzymes in the digestive tract of carnivores. Then bradyzoites are released and differentiate back to the tachyzoite stage as they infect the epithelium of the intestinal lumen and disseminate rapidly within leukocytes, thereby spreading throughout the bodies of their hosts [1, 12]. They then become dormant when the tachyzoites are controlled by interferon-γ and T cell responses of immunopotent individuals [1, 13]. However, this stage of conversion between tachyzoite and bradyzoite shows remarkable flexibility. The success of T. gondii as a parasite may reflect that unlike some other important apicomplexan parasites, T. gondii can also develop asexually, enabling transmission among warm-blooded intermediate hosts through predation, scavenging, and vertical transmission without involvement of the definitive felid host [14].

T. gondii oocysts in the environment

Unsporaluted oocysts are shed by felids infected by ingestion of any of the three infectious forms: tachyzoites, bradyzoites or oocysts. Unsporaluted oocysts without the capability to infect hosts are less environmentally-resistant, and their lifespan and infectivity are affected by climate conditions, particularly by extremes of temperature and decreased relative humidity [8]. The sporulated oocysts become infective and environmentally-resistant for periods depending on local climatic conditions, up to 12–18 months, and still remain viable stored for at least 54 months at 4 °C in water [15, 16]. It appeared that oocysts are more susceptible to freezing than to higher temperatures, for example, sporulated oocysts can remain infectious in −20 °C whereas they can be killed in 55 °C for 2 min [17, 18]. Low humidity is fatal for oocysts, for example, the oocyst at 19 % relative humidity for 11 days can be killed [19]. In addition, sporulated oocysts with an impermeable outer shell are considered resistant to many chemical disinfectants and physical forces [20, 21].

An infected domestic cat between 4 and 13 days after feeding T. gondii tissue cysts can excrete more than 20 million oocysts [22, 23], although the prepatent period of shedding oocysts varies with the stage of T. gondii ingested by the cat. For example, the prepatent period for oocyst- or tachyzoite-infected cats (18 days or longer) is longer than that of bradyzoite-infected cats (3–10 days after primary infection) [24]. However, little is known of the amount, the distribution and the density of oocysts in the environment disseminated by wild or domestic felids, which have been responsible for several outbreaks of water-borne toxoplasmosis in humans even at very low doses of oocysts in the environment [25, 26].

Oocyst-containing faeces are habitually buried in humid soil or sand by cats and are small enough to be widely dispersed by water flow. Mechanical hosts that have contact with contaminated soil, water or crops, such as earthworms and amoebae, may also play a role in dissemination. These processes result in worldwide contamination of the environment, making environmental contact an important route of infection for humans and animals [2729]. Rapid and effective detection of T. gondii oocysts from environmental samples remains a challenge, due to lack of sensitive methods, low density in the environment and the inhibitors of assays in these complex environmental matrices. In recent years, PCR-based molecular techniques have been established to detect T. gondii oocysts in different matrices, such as water, soil and animal tissues [3033]. This method has been demonstrated more sensitive and less time consuming than the bioassay, suggesting a wide application in public health [31]. However, a proper procedure for oocyst recovery is critical because of its observable loss during the procedure [34]. The outcomes of these assays may be interpreted with caution because the efficiency of these assays may be affected by the concentration and purification techniques used, the composition of the samples and the properties of the oocysts (e.g., fresh oocyst or not, sporulated or not), as well as the presence of inhibitors of detection assays [25, 3537].

Environmental factors influence the occurrence, transmission and distribution of T. gondii

Accumulated evidence shows that changes in these environmental factors can strongly influence the occurrence, transmission and distribution of T. gondii, especially with today’s rapid urbanization, global warming and economic globalization worldwide. The loss and fragmentation of animal habitat and loss of biodiversity caused by the world’s ever-increasing population and the ensuing changes in land use may disturb the ecological equilibrium, providing opportunities for T. gondii to spread into new regions.

Climatic effects on the ecology of T. gondii

Today, climate change is both confirmed and being aggravated by three major components which vary in different places and at different times.

  1. 1)

    Global warming due to the increasing concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, such as CH4 and N2O.

  2. 2)

    Rising temperatures cause the hydrologic cycle to change increasing the total precipitation, creating two main aspects: greater rainfall at higher latitudes and decreased precipitation at lower latitudes.

  3. 3)

    Increased frequency in extreme climatic events [38].

Climate effects influence the occurrence, survival, distribution and transmission of T. gondii in three main ways.

  1. 1)

    Whether oocysts can be sporulated or not is partly determined by local climate, particularly temperature and humidity [7].

  2. 2)

    The dynamics of oocysts in the environment are influenced by seasonal precipitation, which affects the river flow that can deliver oocysts from the land to the water, including the ocean, leading to water-borne toxoplasmosis and high levels of coastal contamination with this protozoan parasite [25, 39, 40].

  3. 3)

    Climate may also affect the geographic distribution, population density and migration patterns of rodents, migratory birds and arthropods; animals that act as reservoir hosts or transport hosts and play an important role in the emergence, survival, distribution and transmission of T. gondii [4145].

Temperature may affect the survival and infectivity of T. gondii oocysts, as well as the population density of intermediate and mechanical hosts. Even tiny changes in temperature may have a significant effect on the prevalence of the pathogen [46]. For example, in the region of Svalbard, Norway where felids are absent, warmer water temperatures increased the survival time of T. gondii and led to influxes of temperate-sensitive marine invertebrate filter feeders such as large marine snails. Moreover, the latter, as carriers for T. gondii oocysts, are considered one source of the high seroprevalence of ringed seals and bearded seals, as well as of their predators - polar bears [47]. An interesting study found that the prevalence of toxoplasmosis in pregnant women in Sweden decreased from the south to the north, whereas the average temperature declines along with latitude. To understand further the situation, we analyzed the possible relationship between the prevalence of pregnant women exposed to T. gondii and the average annual temperature in the corresponding area using Pearson’s correlation analysis. The result showed a positive correlation between average annual temperature in different areas in Sweden and the incidence of toxoplasmosis in pregnant women, although the P value was only 0.086 (Fig. 1) [48, 49]. Another national comparative study in Mexico found that an increase of 0.6 °C in the temperature between 2000 and 2006 was positively correlated with an increased prevalence of toxoplasmosis in humans in 21 states in Mexico (r = 0.489, P = 0.029) [50]. For terrestrial animals, warmer temperature may increase their abundance, particularly for rodents, which are considered important in the transmission of T. gondii as they are prone to predation by pigs, dogs, and particularly by cats [51, 52]. Thus, rising temperatures may provide opportunities for these hosts to increase the dynamic of T. gondii and extend its range of distribution [53]. In addition, the increased snowmelt river flow caused by high temperatures during spring conditions could increase the concentration of T. gondii oocysts moving from the melting snowpack to the Canadian Arctic estuarine environment, where humans and arctic marine animals are at high risk of infection with T. gondii [54, 55].

Fig. 1

The possible effects of temperature on the prevalence of Toxoplasma gondii in pregnant women in Sweden. The data of annual temperature in different regions of Sweden were sourced from the Swedish Meteorological Institute (1961–1990); the data of prevelances of T. gondii in pregnant women were obtained from Ref. [48] and Ref. [49]. The correlation was performed using Pearson’s correlation analysis

Rainfall is one of the most important factors influencing the transport of water-borne pathogenic microbial contaminants from the terrestrial environment [56]. The increased river flow caused by increased precipitation in some regions will result in greater delivery of contaminants to the coasts and oceans [7, 57]. One study used logistic regression analysis to find a significant association between T. gondii seropositivity in sea otters and sampling areas with a maximal freshwater outflow along the coast, suggesting that freshwater runoff is an important vehicle to transmit T. gondii from the land to the marine ecosystem [58, 59]. Furthermore, rain can help create a moist environment that allows for oocysts survival and increase the food availability to support high densities of hosts, including transport hosts [45, 53, 60]. Afonso et al. [61] showed that an increased incidence risk of T. gondii in cats was found in rainy sites or during rainy years, especially when the mean precipitation per 10-day period was > 25 mm, suggesting that rainfall could influence the exposure of cats to T. gondii. Conversely, low rain or drought can result in poor hygiene and reduced food supply, floods in contamination, and the abundance of animals [7]. In addition, alteration to precipitation may affect the development of arthropods that require a humid environment, and flies, cockroaches and earthworms are experimentally-proven transport or paratenic hosts for T. gondii, suggesting their potential role in the spread of T. gondii to other hosts through ingestion of oocysts [27, 62, 63].

Human activities

There is little doubt that human activities are changing the environment around us. 1) Climates have been changed by human activities: regional climate can be altered by changes in land use by means of the shifts of surface temperature, radiation and cloudiness; the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) which contributes to global warming has significantly increased due to fossil fuel burning and cement production since the industrial era [38, 64]. 2) Increasing demographics and ensuing changes (including deforestation, urbanization, carbon emissions and other anthropogenic behaviors) have resulted in habitat loss and fragmentation of animal populations, as well as the climate change, which can reduce biological diversity and provide favorable conditions for the occurrence and spread of parasitic zoonosis [7, 6567]. For example, the emergence of T. gondii infections in river otters was likely associated with the higher density of human populations and the increased presence of feral and domestic cats [68]. An increase in the feral cat population responding to the decline of the Tasmanian devil (due to anthropogenic processes) is likely to increase the risk of exposure to T. gondii in naive native marsupials in Tasmania, Australia [69]. Gotteland et al. developed an Agent Based Model (ABM) taking spatial distribution of landscape structures (farm buildings) into account [70, 71]. They found that spatial distribution of farm buildings in rural environments is associated with the infection of humans and animals: humans and animals in the villages where the farms are located might be at a higher risk of exposure to T. gondii oocyst due to the high density of cats [70, 71].


It is estimated that more than half of the world population was living in cities by 2014 and that the world urban population will increase by another 2.5 billion by 2050, indicating a massive migration from rural to urban, particularly in developing countries [72]. The process of urbanization inevitably alters the land cover and concentrates the population, significantly altering ecological mechanisms that influence the epidemiology of infectious diseases, affecting contact rates in animal and human populations via the loss of natural habitat and concentration of domestic and feral animals in urban areas [45, 7378]. For example, urbanization increases the possibility of host exposure to enteric parasites due to the changes in developed habitat, grassland cover and dietary choice [79]. Lehrer et al. [80] showed that woodchucks in the US Midwest became herbivorous “urban adapters” due to urbanization, and urban woodchucks with a higher prevalence of T. gondii shared the same habitat with feral or domestic cats that may discharge high levels of T. gondii oocysts into the environment. Lélu et al. [81] found that the transmission dynamics of T. gondii differed by the type of environment (i.e., rural/urban) and suggested that people living in rural areas tend to have a higher risk of exposure to T. gondii, whereas urban dwellers were likely to be infected by T. gondii oocysts. Therefore, urbanization may greatly affect the transmission pattern of T. gondii and increase the risk of acquiring T. gondii infection associated with oocysts. Obviously, further investigation is needed to elucidate the detailed mechanisms of these processes.

Environmental degradation

Environmental degradation includes deforestation and the degradation of wetlands due to commercial development or agricultural practices and is a global concern [82]. Using a multi-scale, model-based approach, several studies demonstrated that wetlands around human habitation could reduce the load of T. gondii oocysts in the coastal environment through the processes of filtering and adhesion [57, 83, 84]. However, the constant degradation of landscapes caused by anthropogenic activity has increased the transmission of zoonotic pathogens to coastal waters, a process likely responsible for widespread infections or death in some species of marine animals that either ingest the contaminated shellfish or are themselves infected by these zoonotic pathogens [81, 85]. A recent study indicated that a significant increase of T. gondii in coastal waters threatens the health of marine animals, as well as that of the humans who eat raw or undercooked shellfish, because the degradation of wetlands impairs the ability of plants to eliminate the T. gondii oocyst from the surface water in coastal California [84, 86]. However, more investigations are needed to better characterize the relationship between the transmission of T. gondii and the ecology ecosystem surrounding us.


PCR-based molecular approaches used in epidemiological investigations provide powerful tools to monitor and identify the risk factors associated with the spread of T. gondii in the environment, especially in determining the sources of infection and the genotypes involved, as well as tracking the transmission route of T. gondii directly from environmental matrices [63]. However, advanced monitoring and supervision are needed to enhance the abilities of early-warning systems and prevent outbreaks of toxoplasmosis.

The continued changes in environmental factors have modified the emergence, distribution and transmission of T. gondii, although these effects may vary by geographic region according to the local climate, agriculture practice, animal welfare, as well as regional culture. However, those examples mentioned in this review reveal the tremendous gaps in our knowledge of the relationship between the ecology of T. gondii and the changes in environmental factors. This knowledge is critical to effectively alleviate and prevent this disease.

Without effective vaccines to prevent human toxoplasmosis, an integrated strategy of prevention should include improved sanitation, changed eating habits, proper handling of cat feces and providing safe drinking water, to reduce or eliminate the transmission of T. gondii. Importantly, more efforts should be made to develop collaborations among parasitologists, ecologists, epidemiologists, statisticians, modelers and GIS specialists [8789]. In the long term, to prevent this opportunistic zoonotic pathogen, effective vaccines must be developed that can block felid oocyst shedding and protect humans from infection, to control toxoplasmosis in humans and animals [90, 91].


  1. 1.

    Dubey JP. Toxoplasmosis of Animals and Humans. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, USA; 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Tenter AM, Heckeroth AR, Weiss LM. Toxoplasma gondii: from animals to humans. Int J Parasitol. 2000;30:1217–58.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Pereira-Chioccola VL, Vidal JE, Su C. Toxoplasma gondii infection and cerebral toxoplasmosis in HIV-infected patients. Future Microbiol. 2009;4:1363–79.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Fekadu A, Shibre T, Cleare AJ. Toxoplasmosis as a cause for behaviour disorders-overview of evidence and mechanisms. Folia Parasitol Praha. 2010;57:105–13.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Parlog A, Schlüter D, Dunay IR. Toxoplasma gondii-induced neuronal alterations. Parasite Immunol. 2015;37:159–70.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Galvan-Ramírez Mde L, Troyo-Sanroman R, Roman S, Bernal-Redondo R, Vázquez Castellanos JL. Prevalence of toxoplasma infection in Mexican newborns and children: a systematic review from 1954 to 2009. ISRN Pediatr. 2012;2012:501216.

  7. 7.

    Patz JA, Graczyk TK, Geller N, Vittor AY. Effects of environmental change on emerging parasitic diseases. Int J Parasitol. 2000;30:1395–405.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Meerburg BG, Kijlstra A. Changing climate-changing pathogens: Toxoplasma gondii in North-Western Europe. Parasitol Res. 2009;105:17–24.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Speer CA, Dubey JP. Ultrastructural differentiation of Toxoplasma gondii schizonts (types B to E) and gamonts in the intestines of cats fed bradyzoites. Int J Parasitol. 2005;35:193–206.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Dubey JP, Frenkel JK. Cyst-induced toxoplasmosis in cats. J Protozool. 1972;19:155–77.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Ferguson DJ, Hutchison WM, Siim JC. The ultrastructural development of the macrogamete and formation of the oocyst wall of Toxoplasma gondii. Acta Pathol Microbiol Scand B. 1975;83:491–505.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Dubey JP, Miller NL, Frenkel JK. The Toxoplasma gondii oocyst from cat feces. J Exp Med. 1970;132:636–62.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Gross U, Bohne W, Soête M, Dubremetz JF. Developmental differentiation between tachyzoites and bradyzoites of Toxoplasma gondii. Parasitol Today. 1996;12:30–3.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Su C, Evans D, Cole RH, Kissinger JC, Ajioka JW, Sibley LD. Recent expansion of Toxoplasma through enhanced oral transmission. Science. 2003;299:414–6.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Yilmaz SM, Hopkins SH. Effects of different conditions on duration of infectivity of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts. J Parasitol. 1972;58:938–9.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Lindsay DS, Dubey JP. Long-term survival of Toxoplasma gondii sporulated oocysts in seawater. J Parasitol. 2009;95:1019–20.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Frenkel JK, Dubey JP. Effects of freezing on the viability of toxoplasma oocysts. J Parasitol. 1973;59:587–8.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Dubey JP. Toxoplasma gondii oocyst survival under defined temperatures. J Parasitol. 1998;84:862–5.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Frenkel JK, Dubey JP. Toxoplasmosis and its prevention in cats and man. J Infect Dis. 1972;126:664–73.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Wainwright KE. Chemical inactivation of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts in water. J Parasitol. 2007;93:925–31.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Dumètre A. Effects of ozone and ultraviolet radiation treatments on the infectivity of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts. Vet Parasitol. 2008;153:209–13.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Dubey JP. Duration of immunity to shedding of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts by cats. J Parasitol. 1995;81:410–5.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Dubey JP. Oocyst shedding by cats fed isolated bradyzoites and comparison of infectivity of bradyzoites of the VEG strain Toxoplasma gondii to cats and mice. J Parasitol. 2001;87:215–9.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Dubey JP. Unexpected oocyst shedding by cats fed Toxoplasma gondii tachyzoites: in vivo stage conversion and strain variation. Vet Parasitol. 2005;133:289–98.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Karanis P, Aldeyarbi HM, Mirhashemi ME, Khalil KM. The impact of the waterborne transmission of Toxoplasma gondii and analysis efforts for water detection: an overview and update. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2013;20:86–99.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Dubey JP, Lunney JK, Shen SK, Kwok OC, Ashford DA, Thulliez P. Infectivity of low numbers of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts to pigs. J Parasitol. 1996;82:438–43.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Bettiol SS, Obendorf DL, Nowarkowski M, Milstein T, Goldsmid JM. Earthworms as paratenic hosts of toxoplasmosis in eastern barred bandicoots in Tasmania. J Wildl Dis. 2000;36:145–8.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Frenkel JK, Lindsay DS, Parker BB, Dobesh M. Dogs as possible mechanical carriers of Toxoplasma, and their fur as a source of infection of young children. Int J Infect Dis. 2003;7:292–3.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Winiecka-Krusnell J. Toxoplasma gondii: uptake and survival of oocysts in free-living amoebae. Exp Parasitol. 2009;121:124–31.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Palos Ladeiro M, Bigot-Clivot A, Aubert D, Villena I, Geffard A. Assessment of Toxoplasma gondii levels in zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) by real-time PCR: an organotropism study. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2015;22:13693–701.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Aubert D, Villena I. Detection of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts in water: proposition of a strategy and evaluation in Champagne-Ardenne Region, France. Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2009;104:290–5.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Shapiro K, VanWormer E, Aguilar B, Conrad PA. Surveillance for Toxoplasma gondii in California mussels (Mytilus californianus) reveals transmission of atypical genotypes from land to sea. Environ Microbiol. 2015;17:4177–88.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Lélu M, Gilot-Fromont E, Aubert D, Richaume A, Afonso E, Dupuis E, et al. Development of a sensitive method for Toxoplasma gondii oocyst extraction in soil. Vet Parasitol. 2011;183:59–67.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Nieminski EC. Comparison of two methods for detection of Giardia cysts and Cryptosporidium oocysts in water. Appl Environ Microbiol. 1995;61:1714–9.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Dumètre A. Purification of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts by cesium chloride gradient. J Microbiol Methods. 2004;56:427–30.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Kourenti C, Karanis P. Evaluation and applicability of a purification method coupled with nested PCR for the detection of Toxoplasma oocysts in water. Lett Appl Microbiol. 2006;43:475–81.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Zilberman A. A Two-Phase Separation Method for Recovery of Cryptosporidium Oocysts from Soil Samples. Water Air Soil Pollut. 2009;203:325–34.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2014). Accessed 17 August 2015.

  39. 39.

    Mazzillo FF, Shapiro K, Silver MW. A New Pathogen Transmission Mechanism in the Ocean: The Case of Sea Otter Exposure to the Land-Parasite Toxoplasma gondii. PLoS One. 2013;8:e82477.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Ribeiro LA, Santos LK, Brito Jr PA, Maciel BM, Da Silva AV, Albuquerque GR. Detection of Toxoplasma gondii DNA in Brazilian oysters (Crassostrea rhizophorae). Genet Mol Res. 2015;14:4658–65.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Root TL. Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature. 2003;421:57–60.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Prestrud KW, Asbakk K, Fuglei E, Mørk T, Stien A, Ropstad E, et al. Serosurvey for Toxoplasma gondii in arctic foxes and possible sources of infection in the high Arctic of Svalbard. Vet Parasitol. 2007;150:6–12.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Dhimal M, Ahrens B, Kuch U. Species composition, seasonal occurrence, habitat preference and altitudinal distribution of malaria and other disease vectors in eastern Nepal. Parasit Vectors. 2014;7:540.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Elmore SA, Jenkins EJ, Huyvaert KP, Polley L, Root JJ, Moore CG. Toxoplasma gondii in circumpolar people and wildlife. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2012;12:1–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Afonso E, Germain E, Poulle ML, Ruette S, Devillard S, Say L, et al. Environmental determinants of spatial and temporal variations in the transmission of Toxoplasma gondii in its definitive hosts. Int J Parasitol Parasites Wildl. 2013;2:278–85.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Laaksonen S. Climate change promotes the emergence of serious disease outbreaks of filarioid nematodes. Ecohealth. 2010;7:7–13.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Jensen SK. The prevalence of Toxoplasma gondii in polar bears and their marine mammal prey: evidence for a marine transmission pathway? Polar Biology. 2010;33:599–606.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Ljungström I, Gille E, Nokes J, Linder E, Forsgren M. seroepidemiology of Toxoplasma gondii among pregnant women in different parts of sweden. Eur J Epidemiol. 1995;11:149–56.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Ahlfors K, Börjeson M, Huldt G, Forsberg E. Incidence of toxoplasmosis in pregnant women in the city of Malmö Sweden. Scand J Infect Dis. 1989;21:315–21.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Caballero-Ortega H, Uribe-Salas FJ, Conde-Glez CJ, Cedillo-Pelaez C, Vargas-Villavicencio JA, Luna-Pastén H, et al. Seroprevalence and national distribution of human toxoplasmosis in Mexico: analysis of the 2000 and 2006 National Health Surveys. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2012;106:653–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Kijlstra A, Meerburg B, Cornelissen J, De Craeye S, Vereijken P, Jongert E. The role of rodents and shrews in the transmission of Toxoplasma gondii to pigs. Vet Parasitol. 2008;156:183–90.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Jiang W, Sullivan AM, Su C, Zhao X. An agent-based model for the transmission dynamics of Toxoplasma gondii. J Theor Biol. 2012;293:15–26.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Gubler DJ, Reiter P, Ebi KL, Yap W, Nasci R, Patz JA. Climate variability and change in the United States: potential impacts on vector- and rodent-borne diseases. Environ Health Perspect. 2001;109:223–33.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Simon A, Poulin MB, Rousseau AN, Ogden NH. Fate and Transport of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts in seasonally snow covered watersheds: A conceptual framework from a melting snowpack to the Canadian Arctic Coasts. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013;10:994–1005.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Simon A, Rousseau AN, Savary S, Bigras-Poulin M, Ogden NH. Hydrological modelling of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts transport to investigate contaminated snowmelt runoff as a potential source of infection for marine mammals in the Canadian Arctic. J Environ Manage. 2013;127:150–61.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Gotteland C, Gilot-Fromont E, Aubert D, Poulle ML, Dupuis E, Dardé ML, et al. Spatial distribution of Toxoplasma gondii oocysts in soil in a rural area: Influence of cats and land use. Vet Parasitol. 2014;205:629–37.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Shapiro K, Miller M, Mazet J. Temporal association between land-based runoff events and California sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) protozoal mortalities. J Wildl Dis. 2012;48:394–404.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Miller MA, Gardner IA, Kreuder C, Paradies DM, Worcester KR, Jessup DA, et al. Coastal freshwater runoff is a risk factor for Toxoplasma gondii infection of southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis). Int J Parasitol. 2002;32:997–1006.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Jasper JT, Nguyen MT, Jones ZL, Ismail NS, Sedlak DL, Sharp JO, et al. Unit process wetlands for removal of trace organic contaminants and pathogens from municipal wastewater effluents. Environ Eng Sci. 2013;30:421–36.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Stenseth CN, VIljugrein H, Jędrzejewski W, Mysterud A, Pucek Z. Population dynamics of Clethrionomys glareolus and Apodemus flavicollis: seasonal components of density dependence and density independence. Acta Theriol. 2002;47:39–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Afonso E, Thulliez P, Gilot-Fromont E. Local meteorological conditions, dynamics of seroconversion to Toxoplasma gondii in cats (Felis catus) and oocyst burden in a rural environment. Epidemiol Infect. 2010;138:1105–13.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Frenkel JK, Hassanein KM, Hassanein RS, Brown E, Thulliez P, Quintero-Nunez R. Transmission of Toxoplasma gondii in Panama City, Panama: a five-year prospective cohort study of children, cats, rodents, birds, and soil. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1995;53:458–68.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Polley L, Thompson RC. Parasite zoonoses and climate change: molecular tools for tracking shifting boundaries. Trends Parasitol. 2009;25:285–91.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    de la Rocque S. Climate change: impact on the epidemiology and control of animal diseases. Introduction Rev Sci Tech. 2008;27:303–8.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Macpherson CN. Human behavior and the epidemiology of parasitic zoonoses. Int J Parasitol. 2005;35:1319–31.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Patz JA. Disease emergence from global climate and land use change. Med Clin North Am. 2008;92:1473–91.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Mbora DN, McPeek MA. Host density and human activities mediate increased parasite prevalence and richness in primates threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation. J Anim Ecol. 2009;78:210–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Gaydos JK, Conrad PA, Gilardi KV, Blundell GM, Ben-David M. Does human proximity affect antibody prevalence in marine-foraging river otters (Lontra canadensis)? J Wildl Dis. 2007;43:116–23.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Hollings T, Jones M, Mooney N, McCallum H. Wildlife disease ecology in changing landscapes: Mesopredator release and toxoplasmosis. Int J Parasitol Parasites Wildl. 2013;2:110–8.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Gotteland C, McFerrin BM, Zhao X, Gilot-Fromont E, Lélu M. Agricultural landscape and spatial distribution of Toxoplasma gondii in rural environment: an agent-based model. Int J Health Geogr. 2014;13:45.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Gotteland C, Chaval Y, Villena I, Galan M, Geers R, Aubert D, et al. Species or local environment, what determines the infection of rodents by Toxoplasma gondii? Parasitology. 2014;141:259–68.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    United Nations. (2014). Accessed 10 July 2014.

  73. 73.

    Afonso E, Lemoine M, Poulle ML, Ravat MC, Romand S, Thulliez P, et al. Spatial distribution of soil contamination by Toxoplasma gondii in relation to cat defecation behavior in an urban area. Int J Parasitol. 2008;38:1017–23.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    Sepúlveda MA, Muñoz-Zanzi C, Rosenfeld C, Jara R, Pelican KM, Hill D. Toxoplasma gondii in feral American minks at the Maullín river, Chile. Vet Parasitol. 2011;175:60–5.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  75. 75.

    Yan C, Fu LL, Yue CL, Tang RX, Liu YS, Lv L, et al. Stray dogs as indicators of Toxoplasma gondii distributed in the environment: the first report across an urban–rural gradient in China. Parasit Vectors. 2012;5:5.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  76. 76.

    Ferreira JP, Leitão I, Santos-Reis M, Revilla E. Human-Related Factors Regulate the Spatial Ecology of Domestic Cats in Sensitive Areas for Conservation. PLoS One. 2011;6:e25970.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  77. 77.

    Neiderud CJ. How urbanization affects the epidemiology of emerging infectious diseases. Infect Ecol Epidemiol. 2015;5:27060.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    Nijsse R, Mughini-Gras L, Wagenaar JA, Franssen F, Ploeger HW. Environmental contamination with Toxocara eggs: a quantitative approach to estimate the relative contributions of dogs, cats and foxes, and to assess the efficacy of advised interventions in dogs. Parasit Vectors. 2015;8:397.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  79. 79.

    Watts AG, Lukasik VM, Fortin MJ, Alexander SM. Urbanization, grassland, and diet influence coyote (Canis latrans) parasitism structure. Ecohealth. 2015;12:645–59.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  80. 80.

    Lehrer EW, Fredebaugh SL, Schooley RL, Mateus-Pinilla NE. Prevalence of antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii in woodchucks across an urban–rural gradient. J Wildl Dis. 2010;46:977–80.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  81. 81.

    Lélu M, Langlais M, Poulle ML, Gilot-Fromont E. Transmission dynamics of Toxoplasma gondii along an urban–rural gradient. Theor Popul Biol. 2010;78:139–47.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  82. 82.

    Scavia D, Field CJ, Boesch FD, Buddemeier WR, Burkett V, Cayan RD, et al. Climate change impacts on US coastal and marine ecosystems. Estuaries. 2002;25:149–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. 83.

    Daniels ME, Hogan J, Smith WA, Oates SC, Miller MA, Hardin D, et al. Estimating environmental conditions affecting protozoal pathogen removal in surface water wetland systems using a multi-scale, model-based approach. Sci Total Environ. 2014;493:1036–46.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  84. 84.

    Hogan JN, Daniels ME, Watson FG, Oates SC, Miller MA, Conrad PA, et al. Hydrologic and vegetative removal of Cryptosporidium parvum, Giardia lamblia, and Toxoplasma gondii surrogate microspheres in coastal wetlands. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013;79:1859–65.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  85. 85.

    Fayer R. Zoonotic protozoa: from land to sea. Trends Parasitol. 2004;20:531–6.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  86. 86.

    Shapiro K, Conrad PA, Mazet JA, Wallender WW, Miller WA, Largier JL. Effect of estuarine wetland degradation on transport of Toxoplasma gondii surrogates from land to sea. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010;76:6821–8.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  87. 87.

    Zhou P, Chen Z, Li HL, Zheng H, He S, Lin RQ, et al. Toxoplasma gondii infection in humans in China. Parasit Vectors. 2011;4:165.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  88. 88.

    Rohr JR, Dobson AP, Johnson PT, Kilpatrick AM, Paull SH, et al. Frontiers in climate change-disease research. Trends Ecol Evol. 2011;26:270–7.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  89. 89.

    VanWormer E, Fritz H, Shapiro K, Mazet JA, Conrad PA. Molecules to modeling: Toxoplasma gondii oocysts at the human-animal-environment interface. Comp Immunol Microbiol Infect Dis. 2013;36:217–31.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  90. 90.

    Zhang NZ, Chen J, Wang M, Petersen E, Zhu XQ. Vaccines against Toxoplasma gondii: new developments and perspectives. Expert Review Vaccines. 2013;12:1287–99.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  91. 91.

    Zhang NZ, Wang M, Xu Y, Petersen E, Zhu XQ. Recent advances in developing vaccines against Toxoplasma gondii: an update. Expert Rev Vaccines. 2015;14:1609–21.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos: 31230073 and 31172316), the Open Funds of the State Key Laboratory of Veterinary Etiological Biology, Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (Grant No. SKLVEB2013KFKT005), and a Project Funded by the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions (PAPD) in the year of 2014. The authors thank Prof. Eskild Petersen at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Aarhus University, Denmark, for his kind assistance in the preparation of our manuscript. The authors thank Dr. Sarah Smith at the Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, University of Texas, for her kind assistance in improving the English language of this manuscript.

Author information



Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Kui-Yang Zheng or Xing-Quan Zhu.

Additional information

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

XQZ and KYZ conceived the idea and together developed the manuscript’s content. CY prepared and wrote the manuscript. LJL and XQZ revised the manuscript. All authors contributed to helpful discussions, read and approved the final manuscript.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yan, C., Liang, LJ., Zheng, KY. et al. Impact of environmental factors on the emergence, transmission and distribution of Toxoplasma gondii . Parasites Vectors 9, 137 (2016).

Download citation


  • Toxoplasma gondii
  • Ecology
  • Changing climate
  • Human activities
  • Oocysts