Caused by a herpesvirus, fibropapillomatosis (FP) is the most significant infectious disease affecting sea turtle populations worldwide.
It is widespread in warmer climates like Florida, where almost 70 percent of sea turtles in a population have FP.
The debilitating and life-threatening disease leads to tumors on the turtles' eyes, flippers and internal organs and is of major concern in sea turtle rehabilitation facilities because it requires extensive quarantine measures.
Even after surgical removal, there is still potential for tumor regrowth since the underlying associated herpesvirus infection remains dormant.
A large-scale study by Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute evaluated tumor score, removal and regrowth in rehabilitating green sea turtles with FP in four rehabilitation facilities in the southeastern U.S. from 2009 to 2017. The results, published in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, showed that the majority (75 percent) of the turtles with FP did not survive following admission into a rehabilitation facility, irrespective of whether or not tumor regrowth occurred following surgery.
Evaluating cases of rehabilitating wildlife can be an extremely valuable approach for improving our understanding of pathogen activity in both captive and free-ranging wildlife, and for developing recommendations for treatment and management of important wildlife diseases.