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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 86:143-157 (2009)  -  DOI:

Emerging infectious diseases in cetaceans worldwide and the possible role of environmental stressors

Marie-Françoise Van Bressem1,12,*, Juan Antonio Raga2, Giovanni Di Guardo3, Paul D. Jepson4, Padraig J. Duignan5,13, Ursula Siebert6, Tom Barrett7, Marcos César de Oliveira Santos8, Ignacio B. Moreno9, Salvatore Siciliano10, Alex Aguilar11, Koen Van Waerebeek12

1Cetacean Conservation Medicine Group (CMED/CEPEC), Bogota, Colombia
2Marine Zoology Unit, Cavanilles Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology, University of Valencia, PO Box 22085, 46071 Valencia, Spain
3University of Teramo, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, Piazza Aldo Moro, 45-64100 Teramo, Italy
4Institute of Zoology, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4RY, UK
5Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
6Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum Westküste, Christian Albrechts University, 25761 Buesum, Germany
7Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright, UK
8Projeto Atlantis, Laboratório de Biologia da Conservação de Cetáceos, Departamento de Zoologia, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade Estadual Paulista ‘Júlio de Mesquita Filho’ (UNESP), Campus de Rio Claro, 13506-900 Rio Claro, SP, Brazil
9Grupo de Estudos de Mamíferos Aquáticos do Rio Grande do Sul (GEMARS) & Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Av. Bento Gonçalves, 9500, CEP 91501-970, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil
10Grupo de Estudos de Mamíferos Marinhos da Região dos Lagos (GEMM-Lagos), Departamento de Endemias, Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública/FIOCRUZ, Rua Leopoldo Bulhões, 1480-6º andar, Manguinhos, Rio de Janeiro, RJ 21041-210, Brazil
11Department of Animal Biology, Faculty of Biology, University of Barcelona, 08071 Barcelona, Spain
12Centro Peruano de Estudios Cetológicos (CEPEC), Museo de Delfines, Pucusana, Lima 20, Peru
13Present address: Department of Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Melbourne, 250 Princes Highway, Werribee, Victoria 3030, Australia

ABSTRACT: We reviewed prominent emerging infectious diseases of cetaceans, examined their potential to impact populations, re-assessed zoonotic risk and evaluated the role of environmental stressors. Cetacean morbilliviruses and papillomaviruses as well as Brucella spp. and Toxoplasma gondii are thought to interfere with population abundance by inducing high mortalities, lowering reproductive success or by synergistically increasing the virulence of other diseases. Severe cases of lobomycosis and lobomycosis-like disease (LLD) may contribute to the death of some dolphins. The zoonotic hazard of marine mammal brucellosis and toxoplasmosis may have been underestimated, attributable to frequent misdiagnoses and underreporting, particularly in developing countries and remote areas where carcass handling without protective gear and human consumption of fresh cetacean products are commonplace. Environmental factors seem to play a role in the emergence and pathogenicity of morbillivirus epidemics, lobomycosis/LLD, toxoplasmosis, poxvirus-associated tattoo skin disease and, in harbour porpoises, infectious diseases of multifactorial aetiology. Inshore and estuarine cetaceans incur higher risks than pelagic cetaceans due to habitats often severely altered by anthropogenic factors such as chemical and biological contamination, direct and indirect fisheries interactions, traumatic injuries from vessel collisions and climate change.

KEY WORDS: Emerging diseases · Cetaceans · Morbilliviruses · Poxviruses · Papillomaviruses · Brucella spp. · Lacazia loboi · Toxoplasma gondii · Environmental stressors · Zoonosis

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Cite this article as: Van Bressem MF, Raga JA, Di Guardo G, Jepson PD and others (2009) Emerging infectious diseases in cetaceans worldwide and the possible role of environmental stressors. Dis Aquat Org 86:143-157.

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