Deadly Fish Virus Spreads to Lake Superior

fishing on lake superior photo

With the spread of VHSV, fishing in the great lakes could become a lot less interesting. Image credit: *clairity*/Flickr
Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) is a deadly disease that affects a startlingly large number of fish species. Afflicted fish suffer from anemia and, eventually, hemorrhaging. Since 2005, VHSV has worked its way through the Northeast of the United States and now, researchers report, it has spread into one of the regions last strongholds: Lake Superior.
Image credit: Wikimedia CommonsPaul Bowser, professor of aquatic animal medicine at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, led a research group that found 874 infected fish, collected from sites across Lake Superior. It's known to affect 28 species of freshwater fish in the region.

In an effort to curb the spread of VHSV, which has now reached epidemic proportions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a federal order in 2008 preventing the transport of the 28 species of vulnerable fish. Though there has not been an observed increase in fish mortality since this measure was taken, Professor Bowser explains that:

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.

fish virus photo

Image credit: Paul Bowser/Cornell University

Though the virus is not harmful to humans, it does jeopardize the economies of Northeastern communities that thrive off of the recreational fishing industry. Bowser commented that, in New York State alone, sport fishing constitutes a $1.4 billion industry.

"On a worldwide basis," Bowser said, "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." This now includes, unfortunately, all of the Great Lakes.

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