Screening for VHS in Minnesota waters

Project manager: Nick Phelps (Read the Managing Director Conflict of Interest in MAISRC Proposal Funding policy here)

Funded by: Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources

Description: Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) is a highly contagious virus that kills 34 species of Great Lakes fishes. Like other invasive species, it is non-native and was introduced to the area, it moves through different ecosystems with ease, and it has the potential to cause great ecological and economic harm. Unlike other invasive species, it's a pathogen that has the ability to travel through water independent of its host and can therefore be very difficult to monitor. VHS can cause high mortality rates in both farmed and wild fish populations, making it of great concern to aquaculturists and recreationalists alike.

MAISRC researchers have been conducting surveillance and risk assessment projects to help further understand VHS's effects on Minnesota. Through surveillance work, Phelps and his team can establish where the virus can and can't currently be found. Luckily, VHSV has not yet been found in inland waters of Minnesota. However, by conducting a risk assessment, they can identify places in Minnesota where the virus is most likely to appear, which can help prioritize management and control efforts. Risk is determined through a variety of factors, such as connectivity to infected waters, conducive water temperatures, linear distance to infected waters, and nearby boater movement.

Project start date: 2013

Project end date: 2014

Final results:

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) is a highly invasive and pathogenic virus of more than 30 fish species in the Great Lakes region. While the virus has yet to invade Minnesota, it has been detected in all Great Lakes and inland waters of Michigan, New York, and Wisconsin. Early detection of this devastating disease in Minnesota is critical for rapid intervention and management. To that end, this project used highly sensitive diagnostic tools to survey lakes and rivers in Minnesota for VHSV. The locations and species included in the survey were selected in partnership with the MN DNR based on introduction risk, susceptibility, popularity, and geographic distribution. From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2014 a total of 4,552 fish from 36 bodies of water, eight of which were sampled each year, were negative for the virus. While Minnesota remains free of VHSV, the threats of introduction remain a concern for fish health managers. This study has informed future surveillance strategies, risk assessment, and improved confidence in current management approaches.

Updates and progress: