, Volume 65, Issue 4, pp 1024-1038
Date: 19 Mar 2013

Clonally Related Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Isolated from Short-Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), Human Volunteers, and a Bayfront Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility

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Abstract

In May of 2011, a live mass stranding of 26 short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) occurred in the lower Florida Keys. Five surviving whales were transferred from the original stranding site to a nearby marine mammal rehabilitation facility where they were constantly attended to by a team of volunteers. Bacteria cultured during the routine clinical care of the whales and necropsy of a deceased whale included methicillin-sensitive and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA and MRSA). In order to investigate potential sources or reservoirs of MSSA and MRSA, samples were obtained from human volunteers, whales, seawater, and sand from multiple sites at the facility, nearby recreational beaches, and a canal. Samples were collected on 3 days. The second collection day was 2 weeks after the first, and the third collection day was 2 months after the last animal was removed from the facility. MRSA and MSSA were isolated on each day from the facility when animals and volunteers were present. MSSA was found at an adjacent beach on all three collection days. Isolates were characterized by utilizing a combination of quantitative real-time PCR to determine the presence of mecA and genes associated with virulence, staphylococcal protein A typing, staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec typing, multilocus sequence typing, and pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Using these methods, clonally related MRSA were isolated from multiple environmental locations as well as from humans and animals. Non-identical but genetically similar MSSA and MRSA were also identified from distinct sources within this sample pool. PFGE indicated that the majority of MRSA isolates were clonally related to the prototype human strain USA300. These studies support the notion that S. aureus may be shed into an environment by humans or pilot whales and subsequently colonize or infect exposed new hosts.