In a breaking news story that went viral over the weekend, government scientists have (finally) established a tie between last year’s BP oil spill and the epidemic of dolphin deaths and rash of “mysterious” human illnesses that have rattled the Gulf Coast since early last summer.
Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have identified a deadly bacteria known as brucella in five of 21 dolphin carcasses that have been tested to date. Lead NOAA scientist Dr. Teri Rowles believes the combination of oil and the toxic dispersant Corexit – which is estimated to be 11 times more lethal than oil alone – has dramatically weakened the immune systems of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, significantly increasing their susceptibility to the killer brucella bacteria and the deadly disease known as marine brucellosis. I should note that three more dead dolphins were found on Gulf beaches Friday, bringing the total body count to more than 400 since the BP spill began last April. From an Oct. 27 CNN report:
“We believe these five dolphins died from brucellosis,” said Teri Rowles, coordinator of the National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Die-offs from bacterial infections could be occurring because the bacterium has become more lethal, but they could also be occurring, or be more severe, because the dolphins are more susceptible to infection.”
Severe environmental stress, such as exposure to oil, could have reduced the animals’ ability to fight infection, she said…
Government scientists have been searching for the cause behind the so-called “Unusual Mortality Event” that has killed hundreds of dolphins – many of them calves and pregnant mothers. Local media outlets continue to report dead dolphins washing ashore every week and mortality rates up to 10 times higher than the norm. For example, 23 dolphins were found dead in August 2011, compared to a monthly average of less than three dead during each August between 2002 and 2009.
The new research not only sheds light on the pervasive dolphin die-off but could also help explain the “mystery illnesses” afflicting thousands of Gulf residents. From an Oct. 29 Examiner report by Deborah Dupre:
Dolphin are more like humans than any other marine mammal. “What happens to dolphin happens to humans,” Marine Biologist Mobi Solangi from The Institute for Marine Mammals has stated. “The dolphins are the canary in the mine.”
In a startling disclosure, government scientists are confirming that humans can indeed become infected with the deadly brucella bacteria. More from the Examiner:
…the Center for Food Security & Public Health reported in “Brucellosis in marine mammals” “that [r]are human infections have been documented.”
“Marine brucella can infect “terretrial mammals,” and furthermore, “marine brucellosis in humans might be undiagnosed.”
CDC also says brucellosis can infect humans – through: inhalation, the skin, or ingestion. “Humans are generally infected in one of three ways: eating or drinking something that is contaminated with Brucella, breathing in the organism (inhalation), or having the bacteria enter the body through skin wounds,” according to the CDC website.
The CDC identifies people at highest risk for brucella infections as fishermen, laboratory workers, veterinarians, zoologists “and people who work in marine mammal rehabilitation or display centers, as well as anyone who approaches a beached animal or carcass on a beach.”
Although brucellosis cases are rare in the United States, the symptoms are suspiciously similar to those affecting a growing number of people here on the Gulf. And remember, the CDC warns that marine brucellosis in humans can go undiagnosed.
More from the CNN report:
About 100 to 200 cases of brucellosis occur in the United States each year, according to a CDC spokeswoman. It is more common in much of the rest of the world, where animal-disease programs may not be as robust, including Portugal, Spain, North Africa, Italy, Greece, South and Central America, Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East, spokeswoman Lola Scott Russell said.
Symptoms in humans can include fever, sweats, headaches, back pain and an inflammation of the lining of the heart. It is fatal in less than 2% of cases, she said.
Although the new government research is welcomed, it’s been a long time coming. Back in February, Dr. William Sawyer, a veteran toxicologist and leading member of my research team, tied the BP spill to “spontaneous abortions and severe birth defects in humans and other mammals.” When Dr. Sawyer made that statement, of the 30 dead dolphins that had washed ashore since the beginning of 2011, 24 were infants. More from the Examiner:
The mystery bacteria now identified as brucella adds to research by New Orleans-based Environmental Attorney Stuart Smith. His research associate, toxicologist Dr. William Sawyer linked the Gulf dolphin die-off to humans in the report, “Dead Infant Dolphins: Veteran Toxicologist Ties Oil Toxins To ‘Spontaneous Abortions’ In Mammals.” Dr. Sawyer had said the dolphin deaths could very well be linked to BP’s spill… Even without the brucella bacteria factor, Dr. Sawyer reported that toluene and aromatic hydrocarbons are known causes of spontaneous abortions and severe birth defects in humans and other mammals.
The initial conclusions of the government study are also providing clues as to what could be decimating the lower reaches of the Gulf food chain, including shrimp, red snapper and blue crabs. Consider this from an April 17, 2011, St. Petersburg Times report:
Over the winter, anglers who had been working the gulf for decades began hauling in red snapper that didn’t look like anything they had seen before.
The fish had dark lesions on their skin, some the size of a 50-cent piece. On some of them, the lesions had eaten a hole straight through to the muscle tissue. Many had fins that were rotting away and discolored or even striped skin. Inside, they had enlarged livers, gallbladders, and bile ducts.
“The fish have a bacterial infection and a parasite infection that’s consistent with a compromised immune system,” said Jim Cowan, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University, who has been examining them. “There’s no doubt it’s associated with a chronic exposure to a toxin.”
Check back with us soon as we’ll be staying all over this new study and the revelations that are sure to follow.
Read the full CNN report here: http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/27/us/dolphins-bacteria/
Read Deborah Dupre’s report in the Examiner: http://www.examiner.com/human-rights-in-national/bp-gulf-oil-corexit-killer-bacteria-causing-dolphin-die-off-can-infect-humans#ixzz1cMBxRW00
Read the St. Pete report on sick red snapper here: http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wildlife/sick-fish-suggest-oil-spill-still-affecting-gulf/1164042
Read my previous post that ties the BP spill to spontaneous abortions in humans and other mammals: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/dead-infant-dolphins-veteran-toxicologist-ties-oil-toxins-to-spontaneous-abortions-in-mammals
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