Mucorales infections are increasing in frequency and are a One Health pathogen of concern. In humans and domestic animals, risk factors include being immunocompromised, elevated circulating serum iron, contaminated open wounds, or metabolic diseases such as ketoacidosis or uncontrolled diabetes. Mucormycosis was first identified in 2012 in Pacific Northwest marine mammals, predominantly in harbor porpoises. We performed an assessment to determine the overall qualitative risk, or risk score, of mucormycosis in harbor porpoises. Risk factors for this disease are unknown in aquatic mammals. In a separate risk factor analysis, potential risk factors such as pollutants, trace metals (e.g., iron), and co-infection with other pathogens (e.g., viruses and Brucella spp.) were examined in mucormycosis cases and noncases using a matched case-control study design, to determine the presence and strength of association of these factors with mucormycosis. Disease severity (gross and histopathology) and exposure scores were multiplied together to obtain the overall risk scores of 9 -16 which corresponded to moderate and severe, respectively. In the risk factor analysis, the factors most strongly associated with a mucormycosis case, relative to a control, were elevated liver iron, decreased blubber thickness, and the decreased ratio of the sum of PCB congeners/sum of PBDE congeners. The results of this study suggest that mucormycosis may pose an inordinately high risk to harbor porpoises (and potentially sympatric species in the Salish Sea such as southern resident killer whales) based on the detected prevalence and the severity of lesions observed at necropsy. However, the risk may be greater on an individual basis compared to the overall population, and is likely related to other factors such as increased POP and heavy metal burdens.
Norman, S.A., J.L. Huggins, D.M. Lambourn, L.D. Rhodes, M.M. Garner, J.L. Bolton, J.K. Gaydos, A. Scott, S. Raverty, and J. Calambokidis. 2022. Risk Factor Determination and Qualitative Risk Assessment of Mucormycosis in Harbor Porpoise, an Emergent Fungal Disease in Salish Sea Marine Mammals. Frontiers in Marine Science 9: 962857. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2022.962857Download PDF
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