Toxoplasmosis is a worldwide zoonosis. The ingestion of uncooked/undercooked meat and consumption of water contaminated with Toxoplasma gondii oocysts excreted by felids are the main modes of transmission of this parasite. T. gondii has been reported in multiple cervid species; however, little is known of the parasite in North American elk (Cervus canadensis). In the present study, antibodies to T. gondii were detected in serum of wild elk from Pennsylvania collected during 2013–2016 by the modified agglutination test (MAT, cut-off 1:25); 221 of 317 (69.7%) had MAT titers of 1:25 in 19, 1:50 in 28, 1:100 in 34, and 1:200 or higher in 140. Thus most (44.1%) elk had relatively high titers. Seroprevalence was slightly higher in males (76.9%) than females (67.5%, not statistically significant, Chi-square tests, P < 0.0001) and was higher in adults (76.5%) than yearlings (46.4%, Odds ratio 3.82; 95% CL 1.72–8.47; P = 0.001) or calves (21.7%, Odds ratio 12.58; 95% CL 4.51–35.10; P < 0.0001). Annual seroprevalence was relatively stable throughout the period tested and ranged from 66.6% to 72.2%. Of the 101 elk harvested in 2016, hearts were bioassayed from 20 elk and tongues were bioassayed from 56; all tongue samples were negative. Viable T. gondii was isolated from hearts of two female elk, one of these was a seronegative adult and the other was a calf with no serum available for testing. Both T. gondii isolates were cultivated in cell culture and DNA derived from tachyzoites was characterized using the PCR-RFLP markers including SAG1, SAG2 (5′- 3′SAG2 and altSAG2), SAG3, BTUB, GRA6, c22-8, c29-2, L358, PK1, and Apico. One isolate belongs to ToxoDB PCR-RFLP genotype #2 and the other is genotype #5. Both genotypes are frequently identified in animals in North America.
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