Sea lions in Monterey County infected by contagious bacteria

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. - Nearly a dozen sea lions in Monterey County are being treated for a highly contagious bacterial infection. 

According to the Marine Mammal Center, they are currently seeing an outbreak of California sea lions with leptospirosis. It's a bacteria infection that affects the kidneys and can be deadly if not treated. 24 California sea lions within a 600 mile coastal range have tested positive for leptospirosis.11 sea lions with the bacterial infection were rescued in Monterey County. 

Marine experts said, symptoms of leptospirosis are easy to identify in California sea lions, which include drinking water and folding the flippers over the abdomen. 

"Marine mammals generally do not need to drink water because they receive all the moisture they need from food sources. But when they are infected with the Leptospira bacteria, their kidneys stop functioning properly and cannot filter toxins or regulate hydration," said the Marine Mammal Center. 

If the disease is caught early enough the sea lions can be cured. If it's not treated, it can be fatal because the kidney's are damaged beyond repair. 

"Outbreaks of leptospirosis in sea lions tend to occur in a cyclical pattern, and recent outbreaks have occurred in 2017, 2011 and 2008. In 2008, nearly 200 sea lion patients were admitted to The Marine Mammal Center with the infection. When a leptospirosis outbreak occurs, our scientists take advantage of the opportunity to study the disease and learn more about what causes an outbreak and how we can improve treatment for infected animals," said the Marine Mammal Center. 

The reason for the repeated outbreaks is unknown, and it's unclear how this organism enters the marine environment. The first documented outbreaks of leptospirosis in California sea lions was in the early 1970's. 

Center's biologists said leptospirosis bacteria can infect many different animal species, including humans and dogs by contact with urine, water or soil. 

Though vaccines are available they can't guarantee prevention.

"There's vaccines for the most common five but there's many many forms, ten if not more," said Dr. Jonathan M. Fradkin,  "The vaccine companies have been able to get vaccines for the most common ones."

To report sick marine mammals to the Marine Mammal Center call 415-289-SEAL(7325). Keep a safe distance of at least 50 feet and keep dogs away. 

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