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article imageResearch shows deadly fish virus now in all Great Lakes

By Bob Ewing     Jan 28, 2010 in Environment
Cornell researchers report a deadly fish virus, first discovered in the Northeast in 2005, has been found for the first time in fish from Lake Superior.
The Cornell University media release states the virus has now been documented in all of the Great Lakes.
The viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) does not pose a threat to people; however, it can cause fatal anemia and hemorrhaging in many fish species.
Paul Bowser, professor of aquatic animal medicine at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine and colleagues tested 874 fish from seven sites in Lake Superior in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle.
Tests conducted on fish from Paradise and Skanee in Michigan and St. Louis Bay and Superior Bay in Wisconsin were positive. There are other tests still underway but some of the results have been corroborated by other laboratories.
To date, the virus has been identified in 28 freshwater fish species in the Great Lakes watershed and has reached epidemic proportions in the Great Lakes. This means it is a threat to New York's sport-fishing industry, which is estimated to contribute some $1.4 billion annually to New York's economy.
Bowser stated in the media release, "People come from all over the eastern United States to fish the Great Lakes. The economy of many of these areas ebbs and flows with the season and perceived value of outdoor recreational opportunities. The value of these opportunities is dependent on how successful we are at managing the health of wild fish. On a worldwide basis, VHSV is considered one of the most serious pathogens of fish, because it kills so many fish, is not treatable and infects a broad range of fish species."
"It is important to note that there are still fish harboring VHSV; essentially the infection proceeds even though no mortalities are being observed. This is important because it suggests that these infected fish may serve as a reservoir for the virus in the Great Lakes ecosystem. While we don't fully understand the lack of recent mortality, the potential presence or absence of stressors on the fish may be playing a role." he added.
The 2009 work was funded by the Cornell Agriculture Experiment Station and USDA APHIS. Cornell collaborators also include graduate students Emily Cornwell and Geof Eckerlin; and associate professors Mark Bain (natural resources, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) and James W. Casey (microbiology and immunology, Vet College).
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