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Age-dependent prevalence of anti-Brucella antibodies in hooded seals Cystophora cristata

Ingebjørg H. Nymo, Morten Tryland, Anne Kirstine Frie, Tore Haug, Geoffrey Foster, Rolf Rødven, Jacques Godfroid
"Diseases of aquatic organisms 2013 v.106 no.3 pp. 187-196
Cystophora cristata, antibodies, bacteriology, body condition, environmental exposure, food webs, lymph nodes, probability, pups, reproductive traits, seals, seroprevalence, yearlings, Northwest Atlantic
Investigations of hooded seals Cystophora cristata have revealed high prevalences of Brucella-positive seals in the reduced Northeast Atlantic stock, compared to the increasing Northwest Atlantic stock. This study evaluated the relation between Brucella-serostatus in seals in the Northeast Atlantic stock and age, sex, body condition and reproduction. Bacteriology documented which animals and organs were B. pinnipedialis positive. No relationship was observed between Brucella-serostatus and body condition or reproductive traits. Pups (<1 mo old) had a substantially lower probability of being seropositive (4/159, 2.5%) than yearlings (6/17, 35.3%), suggesting that exposure may occur post-weaning, during the first year of life. For seals >1 yr old, the mean probability of being seropositive decreased with age, with no seropositives older than 5 yr, indicating loss of antibody titre with either chronicity or clearance of infection. The latter explanation seems to be most likely as B. pinnipedialis has never been isolated from a hooded seal >18 mo old, which is consistent with findings in this study; B. pinnipedialis was isolated from the retropharyngeal lymph node in 1 seropositive yearling (1/21, 5%). We hypothesize that this serological and bacteriological pattern is due to environmental exposure to B. pinnipedialis early in life, with a subsequent clearance of infection. This raises the question of a reservoir of B. pinnipedialis in the hooded seal food web.