FACT OF THE WEEK: Zoonotic disease Brucellosis found shared between marine mammals and humans.
MORE ON THIS: Zoonotic diseases are those which can be passed between humans and animals. Brucella spp. is the genus of bacteria which causes the zoonotic disease Brucellosis, and can be found in numerous domesticated livestock and wild animals. The Brucella strain in domesticated animals has been eradicated in most industrialized countries, but unfortunately, in developing countries, it is still an issue. The disease has also been found in marine mammals, particularly recorded in dolphins, seals and sea lions. Symptoms in each terrestrial or marine mammal vary, and acquiring the disease can be done by ingesting the bacterium or by touching an open wound.

Spotted dolphin with a lesion
Dolphin with an open wound

A case of a New Zealand man acquiring Brucella was reported in 2002. Initially doctors thought the transfer was from the man dressing a pig a year prior. Upon further investigation through laboratory tests, the Brucella strain found in the man was more closely associated with a strain found in a United States bottlenose dolphin and common seals. The man was interviewed and stated that he was never directly in contact with a marine mammal, but he was in contact with different types of bait and he had consumed a raw fish (Brucella is killed by cooking). Now you know that marine mammals can have diseases which can be passed to humans, so please refrain from approaching or touching them!

  • NOAA Fisheries: Brucella Infection in Marine Mammals Read More
  • McDonald, W. L., Jamaludin, R., Mackereth, G., Hansen, M., Humphrey, S., Short, P., Taylor, T., Swingler, J., Dawson, C.E., Whatmore, A.M., Stubberfield, E., Perrett, L.L., & Simmons, G. (2006). Characterization of a Brucella sp. strain as a marine-mammal type despite isolation from a patient with spinal osteomyelitis in New Zealand. Journal of clinical microbiology44(12): 4363-4370.

Written by Laura Behm