, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 528–539 | Cite as

A Review of Infectious Agents in Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) and Their Long-Term Ecological Relevance

  • Anna C. Fagre
  • Kelly A. Patyk
  • Pauline Nol
  • Todd Atwood
  • Karsten Hueffer
  • Colleen Duncan


Disease was a listing criterion for the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008; it is therefore important to evaluate the current state of knowledge and identify any information gaps pertaining to diseases in polar bears. We conducted a systematic literature review focused on infectious agents and associated health impacts identified in polar bears. Overall, the majority of reports in free-ranging bears concerned serosurveys or fecal examinations with little to no information on associated health effects. In contrast, most reports documenting illness or pathology referenced captive animals and diseases caused by etiologic agents not representative of exposure opportunities in wild bears. As such, most of the available infectious disease literature has limited utility as a basis for development of future health assessment and management plans. Given that ecological change is a considerable risk facing polar bear populations, future work should focus on cumulative effects of multiple stressors that could impact polar bear population dynamics.


bacteria disease fungi infection parasites polar bear Ursus maritimus virus vital rates 



We thank K. Oakley and A. Ramey for comments that improved an earlier version of this manuscript. Mention of trade names or organizations does not imply endorsement by the U.S. government.


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© International Association for Ecology and Health 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna C. Fagre
    • 1
  • Kelly A. Patyk
    • 2
  • Pauline Nol
    • 3
  • Todd Atwood
    • 4
  • Karsten Hueffer
    • 5
  • Colleen Duncan
    • 1
  1. 1.Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical SciencesColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health, Science Technology and Analysis Services (STAS), Veterinary Services (VS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)Fort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Wildlife-Livestock Disease Investigations Team, STAS, VS, APHIS, USDAFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science CenterAnchorageUSA
  5. 5.Department of Veterinary Medicine, College of Natural Science and MathematicsUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA

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