I know seals are mammals.

I know rabies virus can infect all mammals.

I’m pretty tuned into rabies and rabies prevention.

Yet, I’m not sure how quickly I’d clue in to any rabies risk from a seal bite. (I’d hopefully get there eventually, but I doubt it would jump to mind like it would with a bite from a dog or raccoon.)

Rabies in marine mammals is rare, but it happens. There are no marine mammal rabies reservoirs, so a rabid seal would have to have been bitten by a terrestrial mammal, survive the encounter, develop rabies then be noticed and tested. That’s a lot of steps to detect a case. But, as we know with infectious diseases, rare doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It means that it will happen… eventually.

A Cape Fur Seal in South Africa was recently found to be rabid. There’s very little detail in the media article, so we don’t have a lot of context. It’s not clear why the seal was tested, or if it was seen to have had neurological disease. I assume they sequence the virus to see what strain it is, which can help infer the source. The two main rabies strains circulating in South Africa are dog variant and mongoose variant. Presumably this seal tangled with another infected wild mammal or an infected dog, initially survived but got infected with this fatal virus, and for some reason was tested after it died or was killed. While this is a really rare situation, it’s probably fair to assume it happens a more than we realize because of the low likelihood that we’d test a marine mammal for it.

Regardless, post-exposure prophylaxis is being recommended “for anyone who has unwanted contact with the creature.” I guess any bite would classify as “unwanted contact.” They also advise the public to stay as far away from seals as possible. That’s never bad advice.

This is yet another reminder that wildlife should be left alone.

  • Watch them? Great.
  • Touch them? No.
  • Any bite from a mammal? Ask about the need for rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

Image from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/facts/fur-seals