Novel Bartonella infection in northern and southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni and Enhydra lutris nereis)

Sebastian E. Carrasco, Bruno B Chomel, Verena A. Gill, Rickie W. Kasten, Ricardo G. Maggi, Edward B. Breitschwerdt, Barbara A Byrne, Kathleen A. Burek-Huntington, Melissa A. Miller, Tracey Goldstein, Jonna A Mazet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Since 2002, vegetative valvular endocarditis (VVE), septicemia and meningoencephalitis have contributed to an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) of northern sea otters in southcentral Alaska. Streptococcal organisms were commonly isolated from vegetative lesions and organs from these sea otters. Bartonella infection has also been associated with bacteremia and VVE in terrestrial mammals, but little is known regarding its pathogenic significance in marine mammals. Our study evaluated whether Streptococcus bovis/. equinus (SB/E) and Bartonella infections were associated with UME-related disease characterized by VVE and septicemia in Alaskan sea otter carcasses recovered 2004-2008. These bacteria were also evaluated in southern sea otters in California. Streptococcus bovis/. equinus were cultured from 45% (23/51) of northern sea otter heart valves, and biochemical testing and sequencing identified these isolates as Streptococcus infantarius subsp. coli. One-third of sea otter hearts were co-infected with Bartonella spp. Our analysis demonstrated that SB/E was strongly associated with UME-related disease in northern sea otters (P< 0.001). While Bartonella infection was also detected in 45% (23/51) and 10% (3/30) of heart valves of northern and southern sea otters examined, respectively, it was not associated with disease. Phylogenetic analysis of the Bartonella ITS region allowed detection of two Bartonella species, one novel species closely related to Bartonella spp. JM-1, B. washoensis and Candidatus B. volans and another molecularly identical to B. henselae. Our findings help to elucidate the role of pathogens in northern sea otter mortalities during this UME and suggested that Bartonella spp. is common in sea otters from Alaska and California.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-334
Number of pages10
JournalVeterinary Microbiology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2014


  • Bartonella
  • Enhydra lutris
  • Northern sea otter
  • Southern sea otter
  • Streptococcus bovis/equinus
  • Vegetative valvular endocarditis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • veterinary(all)


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