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Treating California Sea Lions with Sarcocystis-Associated Multi-Phase Muscle Breakdown

Clinical signs, treatment, and outcome for California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) with Sarcocystis-associated polyphasic rhabdomyositis
  • Parasites
  • Infectious disease

Abstract

Objective: To describe clinical signs, treatment, and outcome for California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) with Sarcocystis-associated polyphasic rhabdomyositis.

Animals: 38 free-ranging juvenile to adult California sea lions examined at a rehabilitation center in California between September 2015 and December 2017.

Procedures: Medical records at The Marine Mammal Center were reviewed to identify sea lions in which sarcocystosis had been diagnosed.

Results: Clinical signs were highly variable and associated with polyphasic rhabdomyositis attributed to Sarcocystis neurona infection. Generalized severe muscle wasting, respiratory compromise, and regurgitation secondary to megaesophagus were the most profound clinical findings. Respiratory compromise and megaesophagus were associated with a poor prognosis. Eight of the 38 sea lions were treated and released to the wild, and 2 subsequently restranded and were euthanized. Two additional animals received no targeted treatment and were released. The remaining 28 animals were either euthanized or died during treatment.

Conclusions and clinical relevance: Results suggested that unlike other marine mammals, which typically develop encephalitis, California sea lions with sarcocystosis often have polyphasic rhabdomyositis with highly variable clinical signs and that extensive diagnostic testing may be required to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment with an antiprotozoal drug in combination with corticosteroids may resolve clinical disease, but the prognosis is guarded.


Whoriskey, S.T., Duignan, P.J., McClain, A.M., Seguel, M., Gulland, F.M., Johnson, S.P. and Field, C.L., 2021. Clinical signs, treatment, and outcome for California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) with Sarcocystis-associated polyphasic rhabdomyositis. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 259(10), pp.1196-1205.

parasites
infectious disease
Cara Field
Pádraig Duignan
Sophie Whoriskey

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