UC Davis researchers have discovered swine flu in California elephant seals, but the marine mammals don't exhibit any large runny noses.
The scientists detected the H1N1 virus in free-ranging northern elephant seals off the central California coast a year after the 2009 human swine flu pandemic began. UC Davis researchers have been studying flu viruses in wild birds and marine mammals since 2007.
The aim of the research is to understand how viruses emerge and travel among animals and people, according to a university press release. The scientists tested nasal swabs from more than 900 marine mammals from 10 different species between 2009 and 2011.
They found H1N1 in two elephant seals and antibodies to the virus in another 28 elephant seals, which the scientists believe indicates widespread exposure.
The two seals infected with H1N1 did not show any clinical signs of illness. In humans the H1N1 symptoms include fever, chills, a cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue.
H1N1 started in pigs and emerged in people in 2009, spreading into a worldwide pandemic. The World Health Organization now considers it a seasonal virus and under control.
"H1N1 was circulating in humans in 2009," said Tracey Goldstein, a UC Davis associate professor. "The seals on land in early 2010 tested negative before they went to sea, but when they returned from sea in spring 2010, they tested positive. So the question is where did it come from?"
Infections in the seals were detected within a few days of their return from sea. The report said the seals were probably exposed to the virus before they reached land, either while at sea or near shore.
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