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Stranded California sea lions may pose serious health risk

A sharp increase in the number of sick and dead California sea lions has been reported along the Oregon coast in recent weeks, and necropsies conducted on dozens of the animals suggest that many may have died from leptospirosis.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease found in a variety of animal species and can be transmitted to humans, according to Jim Rice, an Oregon State University scientist who coordinates the statewide Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

"We are now getting calls for multiple sick or dead sea lions daily, which is higher than normal," said Rice, an OSU Marine Mammal
Institute researcher who works at the university's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

"The overall number of sea lions also has risen, so it's difficult to compare mortality rates from year to year, but certainly we're seeing an increase in animals that test positive for leptospirosis."

Rice and his colleagues at the stranding network have sent dozens of dead animals to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. And though not all of the animals have tested positive, many showed clear signs of leptospirosis, which raises concern about human health.

Kathy O'Reilly, who heads the bacterial section of the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, said leptospirosis can be virulent.
 
 

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