Department of Biological Sciences, The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS, USA
For as long as cetaceans have been maintained in captivity veterinarians have been fighting the significant morbidity and mortality that Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae has caused. With few to no clinical signs to alert them to the problem, the animals can succumb to the acute, septicemic form of the disease in a matter of hours. Vaccines developed by the swine and turkey industry (and effective in those animals) were tried in cetaceans in the past, but with various problematic side-effects and little known about the effectiveness in cetaceans most facilities, especially in the USA, have abandoned this program. Over the last several years researchers at two facilities (The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS and Dolphinarium Brugge, Belgium) have been studying different aspects of Erysipelas’ effect on the immune system of cetaceans. This talk will briefly review the work that has been performed by these researchers. A rather extensive epidemiologic study of captive cetaceans around the world has been done. Serotyping of several isolates obtained from cetaceans at necropsy has been performed. Vaccine trials in two captive populations of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have been started. Better methods for growing the organism, especially when it is a wild isolate, have been determined. An ELISA using one set of extracted surface antigens from a wild isolate of Erysipelothrix has been developed to determine antibody specific titers to the organism. Research is being done to identify and purify the most important antigenic components of this organism to develop a better ELISA for determining antibody titers and for the potential use in a cetacean specific vaccine.