Marine Mammal Parasite of the Month- June 2021


This parasite is a protozoan that infects most warm-blooded animals, including humans, and causes the disease toxoplasmosis. As far as marine mammals go, this parasite has been observed in sea otters, manatees, harbor seals, northern fur seals, sea lions, and many cetacean species. Humans can become infected by several routes, including eating under-cooked meat of any animal harboring the cysts in their tissues, trans placentally from mother to fetus, or by consuming food or water from contaminated environmental samples. Many people who contract toxoplasmosis do not show symptoms because their immune systems can keep it at bay. Some people can have flu like symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes and glands, muscle aches and pains, and headaches with bright light. Marine mammals have similar symptoms, but can also contract lymphocytosis, hypergammaglobulinemia, and thrombocytopenia. These parasites have a definitive host of the Felidae family and intermediate hosts in nature including birds, rodents, and fish. They are spread through ingestion of another animal, which is likely how marine mammals obtain this parasite. Diagnosis of this parasite can be achieved through detecting DNA specific strands in amniotic fluid using PCR. While this is often not readily available when working with marine mammals, fecal samples can be analyzed in this same way to diagnose this parasite. As far as treatment goes, many people will recover on their own. With marine mammals, antimicrobials can be used for treatment such as amoxicillin and clavulanate. What do you think this parasite is?

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Posted by summer intern Abby C.