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Parasitología latinoamericana

versión On-line ISSN 0717-7712

Parasitol. latinoam. v.59 n.1-2 Santiago ene. 2004 


Parasitol Latinoam 59: 42 - 45, 2004


Detection of Toxoplasma gondii in swine sausages



* Núcleo de Pesquisas em Zoonoses (NUPEZO), Departamento de Higiene Veterinária e Saúde Pública, Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia, Universidade Estadual Paulista "Júlio de Mesquita Filho", UNESP, Botucatu-SP.

Dirección para correspondencia


In order to evaluate the importance of swine sausages in toxoplasmosis epidemiology, Toxoplasma gondii presence was investigated in 70 samples of the product commercialized in the city of Botucatu-SP. Samples were analyzed by bioassay in mice and DNA amplification by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Although the parasite was not isolated from any sample in the bioassay, 33 (47.14%) samples were positive in the PCR. These results indicate that swine sausages probably have low importance as a source of infection for human toxoplasmosis in the studied region. Nevertheless, the great number of PCR positive samples shows that the protozoan may be present, but may be inactivated by salt added in sausage manufacture.

Key words: Toxoplasma, swine sausage, PCR, isolation.


Toxoplasmosis is an infection, sometimes a disease, caused by the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii1. Cats are definitive hosts, while human, other mammals and birds are intermediate hosts2. Human toxoplasmosis is widespread with infection ranges varying from zero to 100%3. In Brazil, studies indicate rates of up to 81%4.

Among food animals, pigs are considered to be the major meat source of T. gondii for humans in the United States5-7. In Brazil, toxoplasmosis in pigs was diagnosed for the first time in 19598. Nowadays, prevalence of infection in swineherds varies widely from place to place9.

The detection of T. gondii in meat is fundamental in order to assess its importan as a source of infection. Serological studies solely are insufficient, since seropositive animals are not necessarily potential sources of the agent to humans10.

Martins et al. isolated T. gondii from only one of 40 swine sausage samples commercialized in the city of Erechim-RS11. In an attempt to elucidate the difficulty to isolate the agent, Jamra et al, studied salt effect on the viability of T. gondii cysts and tachyzoites, and concluded that salt (in a concentration equal to 3%) inactivated the parasite when exposure time was at least three days12.

On the other hand, Navarro et al. studying sausages manufactured from pigs experimentally inoculated with T. gondii, concluded that salt in concentration equal to 2.0% and 2.5% inactivated the parasite in 48 hours of the beginning of the cure process13.

The aims of the present study were to detect the presence and viability of the protozoan T. gondii in swine sausage samples and to evaluate the importance of this kind of food in the epidemiology of toxoplasmosis.


Seventy swine sausage samples (weighting at least 50 g each) were collected from 55 commercial establishments in the city of Botucatu-SP. Samples were identified and transported under refrigeration to NUPEZO's ("Núcleo de Pesquisas em Zoonoses") laboratory, where they were analyzed.

For the bioassay in mice, sausages were digested by pepsin10,14. For each sample, five mice (Swiss, albino, 30 days old) were inoculated with one milliliter of the digested sample by subcutaneous route. Mice were observed for up to 45 days. Samples of lung, liver, spleen and brain were collected from mice that died during the observation period for cytological analysis, and were stained by Giemsa. After the obser-vation period, blood samples from surviving mice were collected to serologic analysis (indirect fluorescent antibody assay - IFA15).

PCR was performed according to a recommended protocol16. For each sample, DNA extraction was performed in sausages submitted or not to pepsin digestion.

In order to compare results between digested and non-digested samples, the Quisquare and McNemar tests were used to evaluate success proportions in dependent samples17.


All samples were negative in the bioassay.

From 350 mice inoculated (five mice per sausage tested), nine died during the observation period. They belonged to different groups and none of them showed positive reaction to T. gondii in the cytological tests. In the other 61 groups, all mice survived until the end of the observation period. Serum samples were collected from them to detect antibodies against T. gondi. However, none was positive up to a dilution equal to 1:16 (Square 1).

In relation to PCR, 33 samples (47.14%) were positive. Twenty-one (30.0%) and 25 (35.71%) were positive using, respectively, digested and non-digested samples. Among positive samples, 13 (39.39%) were positive in both treatments, 12 (36.36%) only in non-digested samples, and eight (24.24%) only in digested samples (Table 1 and Figure 1). Statistical analysis did not show significant difference between treatments (c2 = 0.45; p = 0.50; k = 0.3548).

Figure 1. Detection of Toxoplasma gondii in swine sausages, using PCR, in digested and non-digested samples. Botucatu-SP, 2003.


In the present study, viable T. gondii was not detected in any sample. However, results obtained in the PCR assay showed its presence in almost half of the samples (47.14%).

In relation to PCR methodology, primers used in the present study identify a 200 - to 300 - fold repetitive 529 bp DNA fragment in the T. gondii genome. In such case this methodology is much more sensitive than the amplification of gene B1, one of the most used at the moment, according to Homan et al16. These authors have tested the primers using several parasites genetically close to T. gondii and did not detect any cross-reaction.

The influence of spices used in the curing process on the viability of T. gondii cysts has been studied since the 70's. Venkatachalam & Zimmerman studied T. gondii viability in relation to different meat processing methods. They inoculated 18 pigs and then prepared some foods with their meat, including sausage. T. gondii was not isolated from the sausages and the authors concluded that nitrite, nitrate and salt used in the cure process inactivated the parasite18.

Navarro et al. evaluated T. gondii viability in relation to different swine sausage curing processes13. The protozoan was isolated from all salt-free samples. These sausages were seasoned using garlic and black pepper, showing that these condiments do not inactivate the cysts. In relation to samples treated with different salt concen-trations (1.25%, 2.00% and 2.50%), the greatest the salt concentration and its time of exposure, the most difficult the T. gondii isolation. It was concluded that it is possible to isolate T. gondii from swine sausage cured with salt in concentrations commonly used in industrial and domestic manufacturing, in up to 24 hours of refrigeration13.

Jamra et al, studied the viability of T. gondii cysts and tachyzoites submitted to different salt concentrations. Parasites were obtained from mice inoculated previously. The authors concluded that salt concentration equal to 3.0% was enough to inactivate cysts and tachyzoites after at least three days of exposure12.

In the present study, parasites present in the sausages, whose DNA was amplified by PCR, probably were inactivated by the salt, what is in accordance with the studies mentioned above.

Further studies on the importance of swine meat to toxoplasmosis epidemiology in Brazil are necessary as this meat represents an important T. gondii source to human infection in other countries.


Con el objeto de estudiar la importancia de la longaniza de cerdo en la epidemiología de la toxoplasmosis, se investigó la presencia de Toxoplasma gondii en 70 muestras comercia-lizadas en Botucatu-SP. Las muestras fueron procesadas por las pruebas de aislamiento in ratones y por la amplificación del ADN por la Reacción en Cadena de la Polimerasa (PCR). Aún que el T. gondii no ha sido aislado de ninguna muestra por la prueba de aislamiento in ratones, 33 (47,14%) muestras han sido positivas por la PCR. Estos resultados indican que la longaniza de cerdo probablemente tiene poca importancia cómo fuente de infección para la toxoplasmosis humana en la región estudiada. Mientras tanto, el gran número de muestras positivas por la PCR indica que el protozoario puede estar presente, pero es inactivado por la sal usada en el aderezo de las longanizas.



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Acknowledgments: We would like to thank laboratory technician Hediéferson dos Santos and veterinarian Fábio Hiroto Shimabukuro for their help in samples collection and in performing the trial. We would also like to thank FAPESP )process 01/10275-0) and FUNDUNESP (process 467/2001) for their financial support.


Address for correspondence: Rua Padre Vieira, 584, ap. 64, Centro, Campinas-SP. CEP: 13015-300. Phone number: (19) 3231 8085. Fax number: (19) 3252 48 35. Email:


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