Study to assess veterinarians’ exposure to toxoplasmosis

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Toxoplasmosis has been linked epidemiologically with schizophrenia and has been associated with the risk of suicide, and the suicide rate within the veterinary profession has become an issue of concern.

Against this background, three veterinarians hope to determine whether the occupational duties of veterinarians and their staffs alter the exposure rate to Toxoplasma gondii, as there may be implications for veterinary mental health. The principal co-investigators, Drs. Marthina Greer and Judith Milcarsky, who are practitioners, in conjunction with Dr. J.P. Dubey of the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, have undertaken a limited nationwide survey of veterinarians and their staff to assess the prevalence of T gondii exposure.

Close-up of silver band on a study participant's wrist
The Silver Band Project hopes to add to knowledge about the public health implications of Toxoplasma gondii infection.

The research study, known as the Silver Band Project, intends to add data to the growing body of evidence on the public health implications of T gondii infection. Silver is the awareness color for schizophrenia. Specifically, the purpose is to determine the prevalence of T gondii IgG antibodies in veterinarians and their staff, both those assisting with laboratory fecal analyses and those with receptionist duties only. The prevalence in that population will be compared with the prevalence in physicians and their respective staff members, both those with hands-on patient contact and those with strictly clerical duties, as well as with the prevalence in members of the general public.

No grant money was required to launch the study. Collaborating veterinarians will donate their time, and the USDA will test the samples at no charge. The only potential cost to participants is a physician visit for the blood draw.

The study will begin May 1. Participants will be matched on the basis of gender, age, race, and geography.

Drs. Greer and Milcarsky are also the investigators for an ongoing canine serology study with the USDA to determine whether owned dogs can be a sentinel for environmental contamination with T gondii.

“Testing veterinarians and their staff seems like a reasonable progression,” Dr. Greer states.

Dr. Greer is coordinating Silver Band Project samples originating west of the Mississippi River. Colleagues from that part of the country who are interested in collaborating should contact her at drgreeratveterinaryvillage [dot] com (drgreer[at]veterinaryvillage[dot]com). Dr. Milcarsky is coordinating samples originating east of the Mississippi River and can be reached at jamvetatcfl [dot] rr [dot] com (jamvet[at]cfl[dot]rr[dot]com).

Participant names and contact information will be known only to the collaborating veterinarians, who will provide the participants with their test results.