A study was carried out to investigate the frequencies of abortion and congenital Toxoplasma gondii infection within 27 families (765 individuals) of a pedigree Charollais sheep flock maintained on a working farm in Worcestershire, UK, since 1992. Pedigree lambing records were analysed to establish the frequency of abortion for each family. The frequency of congenital infection was determined for each family by PCR analysis of tissue samples taken from newborn lambs. A total of 155 lambs were tested for congenital T. gondii infection, which were all born during the study period 2000–2003. Significant differences in the frequency of abortion between sheep families within this flock were observed with frequencies ranging between 0% and 48% (P<0·01). Significantly different infection frequencies with T. gondii were also observed for different families and ranged between 0% and 100% (P<0·01). Although the actual cause of each abortion was not verified, a highly significant positive correlation was found to exist between the frequency of abortion and the frequency of T. gondii infection in the same families (P<0·01). The data presented here raise further questions regarding the significance of congenital transmission of T. gondii within sheep populations, the possible successive vertical transmission of T. gondii within families of sheep, and the potential role of inherited genetic susceptibility to abortion with respect to T. gondii infection. This work invites further study into the epidemiology of ovine toxoplasmosis and may have implications for sheep husbandry methods in the future.
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