October 27, 2008

Leptospirosis Study Begins in California

U.S. marine biologists say they have initiated a study of the increased incidence of leptospirosis cases in wild California sea lions.

Scientists at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., hope their research will determine when and why the sea lions contract the disease that usually surges in cycles every four to five years.

"The blood samples our team will collect from wild California sea lions will help determine kidney function and exposure rates among these animals," said Dr. Jeffrey Boehm, executive director of the Marine Mammal Center. "The data will also help us understand more about the susceptibility of sea lions in the population during an epidemic and clarify the relationship between the stranded sea lions with leptospirosis Â… and those that are susceptible in the population."

Leptospirosis epidemics are caused by spiral shaped bacteria called leptospires that can infect humans and animals. If not treated, the patient can develop kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure and respiratory distress.

Collaborators in the study include the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the University of California-Los Angeles, University of California-Davis, Penn State University and the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa.