A serologic survey of influenza A antibodies was undertaken on 1,611 blood samples from five species of marine mammals collected from Arctic Canada from 1984–98. Sampling was done in 24 locations throughout the Canadian Arctic encompassing Sachs Harbor (72°N, 125°W), Northwest Territories in the west to Loks Land (63°N, 64°W), Nunavut in the east, to Eureka (80°N, 86°W), Nunavut in the north to Sanikiluaq (56°N, 79°W), Nunavut in the south. A competitive ELISA using a monoclonal antibody (Mab) against influenza A nucleoprotein (NP) was used. Five of 418 (1.2%) belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) and 23 of 903 (2.5%) ringed seals (Phoca hispida) were serologically positive. None of the 210 walruses (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus), 76 narwhals (Monodon monoceros) and four bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) had detectable antibodies to influenza A. Positive belugas were identified from communities on southeast Baffin Island while positive ringed seals came from communities in the eastern, western and high Arctic. Virus isolation attempts on lung tissue from a seropositive beluga were unsuccessful. We believe that influenza A infection in marine mammals is sporadic, the infection is probably self-limiting, and it may not be able to be maintained in these animals. Although the predominant hemagglutinin (H) type was not determined and therefore the pathogenicity of the strains to humans is unknown, the hunting and consumption of marine mammals by the Inuit may put them at risk for influenza A infection.
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Vol. 37 • No. 4