Protozoal meningoencephalitis is considered to be an important cause of mortality in the California sea otter (Enhydra lutris). Thirty nine of 344 (11.3%) California (CA) and Washington state (WA) sea otters examined from 1985 to 2004 had histopathological evidence of significant protozoal meningoencephalitis. The aetiological agents and histopathological changes associated with these protozoal infections are described. The morphology of the actively multiplicative life stages of the organisms (tachyzoites for Toxoplasma gondii and merozoites for Sarcocystis neurona) and immunohistochemical labelling were used to identify infection with S. neurona (n=22, 56.4%), T. gondii (n=5, 12.8%) or dual infection with both organisms (n=12, 30.8%). Active S. neurona was present in all dual infections, while most had only the latent form of T. gondii. In S. neurona meningoencephalitis, multifocal to diffuse gliosis was widespread in grey matter and consistently present in the molecular layer of the cerebellum. In T. gondii meningoencephalitis, discrete foci of gliosis and malacia were more widely separated, sometimes incorporated pigment-laden macrophages and mineral, and were found predominantly in the cerebral cortex. Quiescent tissue cysts of T. gondii were considered to be incidental and not a cause of clinical disease and mortality. Protozoal meningoencephalitis was diagnosed more frequently in the expanding population of WA sea otters (10 of 31, 32.3%) than in the declining CA population (29 of 313, 9.3%). Among sea otters with protozoal meningoencephalitis, those that had displayed neurological signs prior to death had active S. neurona encephalitis, supporting the conclusion that S. neurona is the most significant protozoal pathogen in the central nervous system of sea otters.
Additional Publication Details
Protozoal Meningoencephalitis in Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris): a Histopathological and Immunohistochemical Study of Naturally Occuring Cases