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Tuberculosis in New Zealand Seals, Sea Lions and Dolphins

Pathology and molecular epidemiology of Mycobacterium pinnipedii tuberculosis in native New Zealand seals, sea lions and dolphins
  • Infectious disease


Mycobacterium pinnipedii causes tuberculosis in a number of pinniped species, and transmission to cattle and humans has been reported. The aims of this study were to: characterize the pathology and prevalence of tuberculosis in New Zealand marine mammals; use molecular diagnostic methods to confirm and type the causal agent; and to explore relationships between type and host characteristics. Tuberculosis was diagnosed in 30 pinnipeds and one cetacean. Most affected pinnipeds had involvement of the pulmonary system, supporting inhalation as the most common route of infection, although ingestion was a possible route in the cetacean. PCR for the RD2 gene confirmed M. pinnipedii as the causal agent in 23/31 (74%) cases (22 using DNA from cultured organisms, and one using DNA from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue), including the first published report in a cetacean. RD2 PCR results were compared for 22 cases where both cultured organisms and FFPE tissues were available, with successful identification of M. pinnipedii in 7/22 (31.8%). In cases with moderate to large numbers of acid-fast bacilli, RD2 PCR on FFPE tissue provided a rapid, inexpensive method for confirming M. pinnipedii infection without the need for culture. VNTR typing distinguished New Zealand M. pinnipedii isolates from M. pinnipedii isolated from Australian pinnipeds and from common types of M. bovis in New Zealand. Most (16/18) M. pinnipedii isolates from New Zealand sea lions were one of two common VNTR types whereas the cetacean isolate was a type detected previously in New Zealand cattle. 

Roe, W.D., Lenting, B., Kokosinska, A., Hunter, S., Duignan, P.J., Gartrell, B., Rogers, L., Collins, D.M., de Lisle, G.W., Gedye, K., and Price-Carter, M. 2019. Pathology and molecular epidemiology of Mycobacterium pinnipedii tuberculosis in native New Zealand seals, sea lions and dolphins. PLoS ONE 14(2): e0212363.

infectious disease
Pádraig Duignan

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