Brucella bacteria found for the first time in Baltic grey seals

14.11.2017 11:55

The studies of Finnish Food Safety Agency Evira have for the first time identified Brucella pinnipedialis bacteria in Baltic grey seals. The positive samples were obtained from the Raahe coast and from the south-western coast. It is probable that the bacteria is prevalent in grey seals in the entire coastal area. The bacterium can also cause disease in humans.

"Although many of the Brucella bacteria prevalent in livestock are also known to be human pathogens, only a few infections in humans caused specifically by Brucella pinnipedialis have been reported in the world. Finland has already for decades been free from the brucellosis of livestock ", explains Senior Researcher, DVM (PhD) Varpu Hirvelä-Koski from the Oulu Laboratory of the Veterinary Bacteriology and Pathology Research Unit at Evira.

Brucella bacteria found in a monitoring programme

Brucellosis was found in Finnish grey seals in the studies of the seal monitoring programme run by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM).

Brucella pinnipedialis bacteria have usually been isolated from healthy seals as an incidental finding. In Finnish seals found the bacterium was isolated from livers displaying parasitic cholangitis.

Marine animals have their own Brucella species

The Brucella species found in marine mammals differ from those of livestock. Brucella pinnipedialis has been found in seals in North Atlantic, Northern Ireland and Canadian waters, in the Scottish and German water areas in the North Sea, as well as in the Pacific Ocean off California. The Brucella ceti species is prevalent in dolphins and whales. These bacteria have never before been reported in the Baltic area.

The Veterinary Bacteriology and Pathology Research Unit at Evira analyses every year in cooperation with the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) several dozens of organ samples of seals hunted or found dead on the Finnish coast.

The study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal
Hirvelä-Koski, V., Nylund, M., Skrzypczak, T., Heikkinen, P., Kauhala, K., Jay, M., Isomursu, M.
Isolation of Brucella pinnipedialis from Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus) in the Baltic Sea. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 2017: Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 850 - 853 

Find out more about the HELCOM monitoring programme.

For more information, please contact:
Varpu Hirvelä-Koski, Senior Researcher, tel. +358 40 512 1531