LONG BEACH PENINSULA - The Oregonian reports that hundreds of dead and dying sea lions are washing up on Oregon beaches and there have been sightings of them on Long Beach Peninsula beaches as well. The cause of the problem in sea lions may be leptospirosis, a disease that can also be life-threatening in rare cases for humans and animals, especially dogs according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"Most of the dozen or so dead sea lions that have been tested this year had leptospirosis," said Jim Rice, an Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute researcher. Tests of 25 sea lions last year showed that 11 had the disease. Transmission to people and animals occurs through contact with infected animals' urine or with urine-contaminated soil, water and vegetation.

Dogs are particularly susceptible to leptospirosis, but they can be vaccinated against the disease. The number of dead and dying sea lions found all along the Oregon coast is expected to match or exceed last year's reports of 350, said Rice. That is about three times the number of reports from previous years.

Symptoms of leptospirosis in humans include high fever, severe headache, chills, muscle aches and vomiting, and may include jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea and rash. If you see a dead or dying sea lion do not touch it and keep dogs away from the animal. Call the Northwest Marine Mammals Stranding Network at 800-853-1964 or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at 877-933-9847 to report dead or dying sea lions.

Leptospirosis is not the only cause for the high number of dead and dying sea lions, Rice told the Oregonian, adding that pneumonia, cancer and shootings by people also contribute to the toll. But researchers are concerned about the prevalence of the disease.

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