November 28, 2020

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one of the few places in the world that studies viral disease in turtles

Photo: EFE / Thais Llorca / File

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico is one of the few places in the world where the viral disease in sea turtles is studied, as reported this Friday through a statement by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER).

The statement details that during the past 19 years, the Protected Species Program (Sea Turtle Project) of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) in Puerto Rico has been one of the few places in the world where it has been possible to study the Prevalence of fibropapillomatosis (FP) viral disease in sea turtles.

The Secretary of Natural and Environmental Resources, Rafael Machargo, explained that this disease consists of tumors or warts that are seen in some sea turtles.

One of the main characteristics of this virus, which is found mostly in whitefish, is that it sometimes appears or manifests as tumors, warts or cysts that, due to their broccoli or cauliflower shape, can look very grotesque.

Although the disease is contagious among turtles, it is not contagious to humans or other organisms.

However, this virus is not a direct threat to the turtle or the species.

The mortality of turtles due to this virus is variable, since in some animals tumors can decrease naturally or for it to cause mortality it has to be a very severe case of tumors that impede their field of vision or movement among others and die as a result of not being able to get food or easy prey from predators.

Among the most outstanding findings of this study, the incidence of the disease remains low, but with some high periods or outbreaks from time to time (similar to other viruses).

The vast majority of juvenile turtles do not have tumors, while tortoises that are approaching adulthood may have tumors.

FP virus does not affect growth rates in most tortoises that possess it and some tortoises have the ability to recover.

The feeding areas of whitefish with some degree of contamination are where there is the highest incidence.

“Although this disease can cause mortality, this has not been an impediment to the population growth of the species,” said Carlos Diez, Project Coordinator and Leader. “Currently, whitefish populations have increased more than 70% on many beaches worldwide. For example, in Florida more than 50,000 nests were documented during 2019, ”he said.

“Although there is no cure for this disease, in some countries, including Puerto Rico, some individuals who are in critical condition (cannot swim or see) are rescued to try to remove their tumors, but it is not always successful, since these also grow internally or reappear externally ”, he pointed out.

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