Novel members of the bacterial genus Brucella have recently emerged as pathogens of various marine mammal species and as potential zoonotic agents. We investigated the epizootiology of Brucella infection in Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) by establishing demographic and temporal variations in antibody prevalence, attempting isolation of the causative agent, and determining whether this potential pathogen is involved in frequent abortions observed in this pinniped species. Two competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (cELISAs), an indirect ELISA, and a fluorescence polarization assay (FPA) were used to test sera for Brucella antibodies. The FPA and cELISA proved suitable for use in this species. Significant differences in antibody prevalence were found between age classes of seals sampled between 2007 and 2009 at one colony. Pups sampled at this site (n=134) were negative for Brucella antibodies by all serologic tests but 17 of 45 (38%) of juveniles were antibody-positive. Antibody prevalence in adult females was significantly higher than in juveniles (P=0.044). Antibody prevalence for adult females between 2003 and 2009 varied significantly over time (P=0.011), and for individuals sampled between 2003 and 2005, the likelihood of pregnancy was greater in individuals positive for Brucella antibodies (P=0.034). Inflammatory lesions suggestive of infectious agents were found in 14 of 39 aborted Australian fur seal pups, but pathologic changes were not uniformly consistent for Brucella infection. Culture and PCR investigations on fetal tissues were negative for Brucella. Culture and PCR on selected fresh or frozen tissues from 36 juvenile and adult animals were also negative. We suspect that the prevalence of active infection with Brucella in Australian fur seals is low relative to antibody prevalence.
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Vol. 47 • No. 2