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Molecular Epidemiology of Cryptosporidium spp. and Giardia spp. in Mussels (Mytilus californianus) and California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) from Central California


Cryptosporidium and Giardia are of public health importance, with recognized transmission through recreational waters. Therefore, both can contaminate marine waters and shellfish, with potential to infect marine mammals in nearshore ecosystems. A 2-year study was conducted to evaluate the presence of Cryptosporidium and Giardia in mussels located at two distinct coastal areas in California, namely, (i) land runoff plume sites and (ii) locations near sea lion haul-out sites, as well as in feces of California sea lions (CSL) (Zalophus californianus) by the use of direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) detection methods and PCR with sequence analysis. In this study, 961 individual mussel hemolymph samples, 54 aliquots of pooled mussel tissue, and 303 CSL fecal samples were screened. Giardia duodenalis assemblages B and D were detected in hemolymph from mussels collected near two land runoff plume sites (Santa Rosa Creek and Carmel River), and assemblages C and D were detected in hemolymph from mussels collected near a sea lion haul-out site (White Rock). These results suggest that mussels are being contaminated by protozoa carried in terrestrial runoff and/or shed in the feces of CSL. Furthermore, low numbers of oocysts and cysts morphologically similar to Cryptosporidium and Giardia, respectively, were detected in CSL fecal samples, suggesting that CSL could be a source and a host of protozoan parasites in coastal environments. The results of this study showed that Cryptosporidium and Giardia spp. from the feces of terrestrial animals and CSL can contaminate mussels and coastal environments.

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