Prevalence of antibodies against Brucella spp. in West Greenland polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and East Greenland muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus)


Zoonotic infections transmitted from terrestrial and marine mammals to humans in European Arctic are of unknown significance, despite considerable potential for transmission due to local hunt and a rapidly changing environment. As an example, infection with Brucella bacteria may have significant impact on human health due to consumption of raw meat or otherwise contact with tissues and fluids of infected game species such as muskoxen and polar bears. Here, we present serological results for Baffin Bay polar bears (Ursus maritimus) (n = 96) and North East Greenland muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) (n = 32) for antibodies against Brucella spp. The analysis was a two-step trial initially using the Rose Bengal Test (RBT), followed by confirmative competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays of RBT-positive samples. No muskoxen had antibodies against Brucella spp., while antibodies were detected in six polar bears (6.25%) rendering a seroprevalence in line with previous findings in other Arctic regions. Seropositivity was not related to sex, age or biometrics i.e. size and body condition. Whether Brucella spp. antibodies found in polar bears were due to either prey spill over or true recurrent Brucella spp. infections is unknown. Our results therefore highlight the importance of further research into the zoonotic aspects of Brucella spp. infections, and the impact on wildlife and human health in the Arctic region.

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Nordic Council of Ministers (NMR NORDEN) is acknowledged for financial support to the project Infectious Zoonotic Diseases Transmissible from harvested Wildlife to humans in the European Arctic (ZORRO). In addition, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, 15. juni Foundation and the Zoological Garden of Copenhagen is acknowledged for funding to the Baffin Bay and Zackenberg polar bear and muskoxen projects, respectively. Daniel Spelling Clausen is acknowledged for his graphical support. According to national legislation for studies of polar bears all polar bear samples were collected with permission of the Government of Greenland´s Department of Fishery, Hunting and Agriculture (Nuuk). File number 66.24/06: 11 February 2009, 24 February 2010, 24 March 2011 (2011 and 2012), and 25 March 2013. Capture and handling of muskoxen in this study followed the guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists (Sikes and Gannon 2011), and research permits were granted by the Greenlandic government (J. No. G13-029 and G15-019) and by the Greenlandic police (J. No 55se-50190-00153-15).

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Correspondence to Christian Sonne.

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Sonne, C., Andersen-Ranberg, E., Rajala, E.L. et al. Prevalence of antibodies against Brucella spp. in West Greenland polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and East Greenland muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus). Polar Biol 41, 1671–1680 (2018).

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  • Arctic
  • Humans
  • One health
  • Zoonosis