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Influenza A Seal Deaths In New England
Recombinomics Commentary 11:30
November 5, 2011

Results of preliminary pathology, biotoxin and virology analysis conducted on tissue samples from five seal carcasses examined by the New England Aquarium all came back positive for the Influenza A virus, according to Maggie Mooney-Seus, a spokeswoman for NOAA’s Northeast Region.

From Sept. 1 to Nov. 3, there have been 146 reported seals strandings in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Most of the animals were harbor seals less than a year old. The figure is more than three times the average number of seal deaths that typically occur this time of year, according to NOAA.

The above comments describe fatal influenza infections in seals that are targeting younger seals, in contrast to earlier outbreaks which were linked to influenza infections off the coast of Massachusetts in 1980 and 1992 which did not have a strong association with age.

Sequences from these outbreaks have been made public.  The 1980 outbreak was associated with H7N7, A/seal/Mass/1/1980, while the 1992 outbreak involved H3N3 (A/seal/MA/3911/1992 and A/seal/MA/3984/1992).  Other serotypes have been isolated from seals, including H4N5 (A/seal/Massachusetts/133/1982) and influenza B (B/Netherlands/1/99).

The H3 and H7 serotypes have been seen in other serotypes, such as H3N8 and H7N7 in horses, or H3N8 in dogs.  In the United States, the H3 serotype was found in swine in the 1990’s, first as double reassortants involving seasonal H3N2 (with HA, NA, and PB1 genes), followed by triple reassortants involving avian PA and PB2).

Recently, increases in human trH3N2 cases have been noted, including two in Maine in October.

Serotypes for the five confirmed seals cases would be useful.

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