DAO 53:41-46 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/dao053041

Bacteraemia in free-ranging Hawaiian green turtles Chelonia mydas with fibropapillomatosis

Thierry M. Work1,*, George H. Balazs2, Mark Wolcott3, Robert Morris4

1US Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center, Hawaii Field Station, 300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 5-231, Honolulu, Hawaii 96850, USA
2National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Honolulu Laboratory, 2570 Dole St., Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA
3US Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center, 6006 Schroeder Road, Madison, Wisconsin 53711, USA
4Makai Animal Clinic, 420 Uluniu St., Kailua, Hawaii 96734, USA

ABSTRACT: Past studies of free-ranging green turtles Chelonia mydas with fibropapillomatosis (FP) in Hawaii have shown that animals become immunosuppressed with increasing severity of this disease. Additionally, preliminary clinical examination of moribund turtles with FP revealed that some animals were also bacteraemic. We tested the hypothesis that bacteraemia in sea turtles is associated with the severity of FP. We captured free-ranging green turtles from areas in Hawaii where FP is absent, and areas where FP has been endemic since the late 1950s. Each turtle was given an FP severity score ranging from 0 (no tumours) to 3 (severely affected). A fifth category included turtles that were stranded ashore and moribund with FP. We found that the percentage of turtles with bacteraemia increased with the severity of FP, and that the majority of bacteria cultured were Vibrio spp. Turtles with severe FP were more susceptible to bactaeremia, probably in part due to immunosuppression. The pattern of bacteraemia in relation to severity of disease strengthens the hypothesis that immunosuppression is a sequel to FP.


KEY WORDS: Bacteria · Bacteraemia · Chelonia mydas · Green turtle · Haematology · Vibrio


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