A loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) was found stranded alive along the Adriatic coast close to Ancona, Italy, displaying obtundation, tachypnea, and increased respiratory effort. It died a few hours after admission, and a postmortem examination was immediately performed. Miliary yellowish nodules were evident in the liver, and a lower number in the heart, stomach, and gut wall. Hundreds of whitish nodules were scattered in the lungs, with the majority of the pulmonary parenchyma being replaced by the lesions. Histologically, all nodular lesions consisted of a small central area of necrosis with acid-fast bacilli surrounded by epithelioid cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes. Giant cells were found in the spleen and the liver. Kidneys, lungs, liver, spleen, brain, and skin lesions were inoculated aseptically onto general isolation media and selective isolation media for mycobacteria. The isolate showed a restriction pattern identical to Mycobacterium chelonae by polymerase chain reaction–restriction fragment length polymorphism. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this is the first description of a disseminated infection caused by a potentially pathogenic mycobacteria in a stranded, free-ranging loggerhead sea turtle. Veterinary staff and biologists who handle sea turtles with suspected mycobacterial disease should protect themselves appropriately.
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