Diagnosis and seroprevalence of leptospirosis in California sea lions from coastal California

Angela M. Colagross-Schouten, Jonna A Mazet, Frances M D Gulland, Melissa A. Miller, Sharon Hietala

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56 Scopus citations


The sensitivity and specificity of the microscopic agglutination test (MAT) as a method for detection of exposure to Leptospira spp. in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) were determined. Sera came from individuals that demonstrated clinical signs of renal disease, had lesions suggestive of leptospirosis at necropsy, and had visible leptospires in silver stained kidney sections as positive controls. Sera from unexposed captive individuals were used as negative controls. The test was 100% sensitive at 1:3,200 for confirming renal infection and 100% specific at negative < 1:100 for detection of Leptospira interrogans serovar pomona antibodies by MAT in California sea lions. Leptospira interrogans serovar pomona was used as a screening serovar because it has been isolated previously from the kidneys and placentas of California sea lions, and there appears to be cross-reactivity between serovar pomona and other serovars. Sera from 225 free-ranging California sea lions presented to one of three participating California (USA) coastal marine mammal rehabilitation centers in 1996 were then evaluated for antibodies to serovar pomona using the MAT. The overall seroprevalence was 38.2% (86/225), although the prevalence varied among locations from 100% (38/38) in animals at the Marine Mammal Care Center (Fort MacArthur, California, USA) to 0% (0/14) at SeaWorld California (San Diego, California). At The Marine Mammal Center (Sausalito, California) [prevalence 27.8% (48/173)], the majority of seropositive animals were subadults and adults, and males were 4.7 times more likely to be seropositive to serovar pomona than females. When combining results from all three centers, subadult and adult animals were more likely to be seropositive than pups and juvenile sea lions, and the highest proportion of seropositive animals presented during the autumn months. Serum elevations of blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, phosphorus, and/or calcium were associated with seropositivity to serovar pomona. We found no association between potassium or sodium levels and seropositivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-17
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Wildlife Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2002


  • California sea lion
  • Leptospira interrogans pomona
  • Leptospirosis
  • Microscopic agglutination test
  • Seroprevalence
  • Warthin-Starry stain
  • Zalophus californianus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)


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