In 1994 a novel Brucella sp., later named B. pinnipedialis, was identified in stranded harbor seals (Phoca vitulina). This Brucella sp. is a potential zoonotic pathogen and is capable of causing disease in domestic animals. Serologic, microbiologic, and pathologic data collected from live captured and stranded harbor seals were used to better describe the epizootiology of B. pinnipedialis in harbor seals from Washington State, USA, in 1994 through 2006. We found no sex predilection in harbor seal exposure or infection with B. pinnipedialis but noted a significant difference in prevalence among age classes, with weaned pups, yearlings, and subadults having highest exposure and infection. The most common postmortem finding in 26 Brucella-positive animals (culture and/or PCR) was verminous pneumonia due to Parafilaroides spp. or Otostrongulus circumlitus. Our data are consistent with exposure to B. pinnipedialis post-weaning, and it is likely that fish or invertebrates and possibly lungworms are involved in the transmission to harbor seals. Brucella pinnipedialis was cultured or detected by PCR from seal salivary gland, lung, urinary bladder, and feces, suggesting that wildlife professionals working with live, infected seals could be exposed to the bacterium via exposure to oral secretions, urine, or feces. Endangered sympatric wildlife species could be exposed to B. pinnipedialis via predation on infected seals or through a common marine fish or invertebrate prey item involved in its transmission. More work is required to elucidate further potential fish or invertebrates that could be involved in the transmission of B. pinnipedialis to harbor seals and better understand the potential risk they could pose to humans or sympatric endangered species who also consume these prey items.
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Vol. 49 • No. 4