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The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit veterinary hospital, research, and educational center dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of ill and injured marine mammals and the study of their health. Since 1975, the Center has rescued and treated more than 16,500 marine mammals and has accumulated a body of knowledge about marine mammal and ocean health. Through public education about marine mammals, the Center hopes to foster ocean stewardship and conservation. For more information, visit http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Sleeptight": Don't Let the (Bed) Bugs Bite!

A mite under the microscope.

An x-ray of Sleeptight.

Sleeptight is a juvenile male California sea lion admitted to The Marine Mammal Center on July 18th. The animal was very underweight and on physical examination it was apparent he had pneumonia. His lab work showed a very high level of immunoglobulins in the blood, and radiographs confirmed a severe inflammatory reaction in the lungs. The weight loss and the elevated immunoglobulin levels indicated that this problem had been going on for quite some time. Although pneumonia itself is not uncommon, it is unusual to see severe pneumonia in such a young animal.

Vet staff decided to check for slow growing organisms like fungi or even odd things like cancer cells that have spread to the lungs, but they didn’t expect to see what they found.

Center staff ruled out fungi by doing some blood tests. The vet staff and volunteers treated Sleeptight with antibiotics to see if there would be a response to treatment indicating a bacterial pneumonia. Sleeptight didn’t get any better.

They took a look inside the airways and down into the small bronchioles of the lungs with a bronchoscope. The answer was surprising: Mites! Bugs living in the airways! This explained both the lung inflammation and the nature of the chronic change.

Lung mites are rarely reported in pinnipeds or other mammals. There are some lung mites in monkeys, apes, snakes, and birds, but they aren’t seen very often in seals and sea lions. These mites are most likely Orthohalarhacne diminuta related to the common nasal mite, but living in the lungs. There are rare scattered reports of finding them in the airways of fur seals, and at least one sea lion in Germany in 1973.

The good news is that with the correct diagnosis and the subsequent correct treatment, Sleeptight's prognosis is good. Here's to a good night's sleep for Sleeptight here at the Center...

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