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Int J Parasitol. 1997 Feb;27(2):167-72.

Overview of "bumper car" disease--impact on the North American lobster fishery.

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Department of Pathology and Microbiology, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Canada.


Recent (1993) landings of American lobsters (Homarus americanus) were valued at $294 million (Can.) in Canada and $213 million (Can.) in the United States. However, post-harvest losses are estimated at $50-75 million (10-15%) annually. The lobster fishery is one of the few remaining viable traditional fisheries in eastern North America. "Bumper car" disease of lobsters, caused by the scuticociliate Anophryoides haemophila, can cause significant losses in coldwater impoundments. Apparently epidemics now occur more frequently and with greater severity; surprisingly the epidemiology and economic impacts of "bumper car" disease are not well documented. The ciliate A. haemophila is easily maintained in a cell-free, chemically defined, seawater-based medium at 5 degrees C. Cultured ciliates require longer and more parasites to kill lobsters than those transmitted by intrahaemocoelic injection from lobster-to-lobster. Regardless of source of ciliates, the larger the inoculum, the more rapid the death of lobsters. The pathogenesis of "bumper car" disease is unknown. Horizontal transmission could occur across the thin cuticle of gills or via wounds in the exoskeleton present during moulting of lobsters. Because ciliates are initially sequestered in lobster tissues for an extended period, they are detectable sooner by histological examination of tissues than by direct examination or culture of haemolymph. Additional to indirect fluorescent antibody testing and immunoperoxidase staining of tissues, utilizing monoclonal antibodies prepared to sonicated ciliates, the parasites are readily detected with oligonucleotide probes based on ssu-rDNA of A. haemophila. The prevalence of A. haemophila should be re-evaluated. Ciliates sequester in gill, heart and muscle tissues. Several disinfectants and chemotherapeutants, licensed in North America for veterinary use in food-producing animals, are efficacious against A. haemophila in vitro. A definition of healthy vs ciliate-infected lobsters is being prepared, based on haematology and clinical chemistry of haemolymph. Our novel bar-coded labelling system for aquatic organisms facilitates experimental design and randomization protocols of lobsters. The model of "bumper car" disease will aid study of health and infectious disease processes of lobsters and other crustaceans.

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