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Expert: Aquatic Virus Hits 2 Great Lakes

US - A deadly, fast-spreading aquatic virus is reaching epidemic proportions in New York's two Great Lakes and has already spread into the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, a Cornell University fisheries expert said Tuesday.

The viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus _ or VHS _ has now been identified in 19 species in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, including muskellunge, New York's No. 2 sport fish, said Paul Bowser, a professor of aquatic animal medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Equally alarming, said Bowser, is the confirmation of VHS in walleye in Conesus Lake, which is the westernmost Finger Lake and is the only New York lake where VHS has been confirmed in a body of water other than the contiguous waters of the Great Lakes.

"The fact that VHS was found in this inland body of water is particularly disturbing in that it immediately brings up the question of how did it get there and what can be done to prevent the virus from moving to other bodies of water," said Bowser, who along with his colleagues at Cornell recently developed a new test that can identify the virus within 24 hours.

VHS was first detected in New York last year in fish from the St. Lawrence and Niagara rivers, as well as the state's two Great Lakes.

Of the 19 species affected, VHS has caused serious fish kills in six, Bowser said. In the remaining 13 species, Cornell scientists have detected the virus but have recorded no "mortality events," he said. There are approximately 150 species of freshwater fish in New York.

"It has been found in a broad range of evolutionarily distinct species, both cold- and warm-water families. We don't think there is any species that is not susceptible," said Doug Stang, chief of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's Bureau of Fisheries, which is monitoring 40 water bodies across the state to track the spread of VHS.

Source: Casper

Further Information

For more information, view the Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia Fact Sheet.