Deadly Fish Virus Appears in Northwest

Scientists and agricultural officials in the Pacific Northwest are on the alert after news that a deadly fish virus may have surfaced in the region. The virus in question, infectious salmon anemia, is one of the most dangerous viruses currently affecting farm grown salmon, one that has the potential to devastate the industry.

In 1984, infectious salmon anemia first appeared in salmon farms in Norway. Over the next several years, the disease spread across the Atlantic, appearing in salmon farms from Scotland to Maine. ISA has also been detected in Pacific salmon farms, most recently in Chile in 2007.

As its name suggests, infectious salmon anemia causes severe anemia in infected salmon. The illness infects the fishes’ red blood cells, causing them to die, and occasionally burst, choking blood flow, damaging organs, and eventually causing death.

The disease can be spread through contact with infected fish and can also be spread by individuals and equipment that have come into contact with infected fish. The ease of transmission, combined with the disease’s high death rate, has made it a particularly devastating disease in salmon farms across the globe. The 2007 outbreak in Chile, for example, killed over 70 percent of salmon in several Chilean fish farms.

There is no known treatment of fish once they have been infected. Once detected in fish farms, the recommended treatment is the eradication of the entire fish stock.

Recently, Canadian scientists fear they may have found traces of the virus in two wild sockeye salmon in the Pacific coast. Virologists at the state and federal level consider the outbreak of ISA a disease emergency, although some scientists are cautioning that there is no concrete evidence of an outbreak, reminding fish farmers across the coast to keep in mind that the initial findings could possibly be an error.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer