In 1997, cutaneous papillomatosis caused by Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris [Tm]) papillomavirus 1 (TmPV1) was detected in seven captive manatees at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida, USA, and, subsequently, in two wild manatees from the adjacent Homosassa River. Since then, papillomatosis has been reported in captive manatees housed in other locations, but not in wild animals. To determine TmPV1 antibody prevalence in captive and wild manatees sampled at various locations throughout Florida coastal regions, virus-like particles, composed of the L1 capsid protein of TmPV1, were generated with a baculovirus expression system and used to measure anti-TmPV1 antibodies in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Serologic analysis of 156 manatees revealed a TmPV1 antibody prevalence of 26.3%, with no significant difference between captive (n=39) and wild (n=117) manatees (28.2% and 25.6%, respectively). No antibody-positive wild animal showed PV-induced cutaneous lesions, whereas papillomatosis was observed in 72.7% of antibody-positive captive manatees. Our data indicate that Florida manatees living in the wild are naturally infected by TmPV1 but rarely show TmPV1-induced papillomatosis. Hence, it appears that the wild population would not be harmed in a case of contact with captive animals without visible lesions and productive infections, which could be thus released into the wild.
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Vol. 47 • No. 3