Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Wisconsin Fishery
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Wilson-Rothering, A.E., S.V. Marquenski, D. Isermann, A. Thruman, K.L. Toohey-Kurth, and T.L. Goldberg. 2015. Seroprevalence and inter-epidemic persistence of viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus in freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) from Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin, USA. Journal of Clinical Microbiology 53:2889-2894.


Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) is an emerging pathogen that causes mass mortality in multiple fish species. In 2007, the Great Lakes freshwater strain, type IVb, caused a large die-off of freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) in Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin, USA. To evaluate the persistence and transmission of VHSV, freshwater drum from Lake Winnebago were tested for antibodies to the virus using recently developed virus neutralization (VN) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent (ELISA) assays. Samples were also tested by real-time reverse transcription-PCR (rRT-PCR) to detect viral RNA. Of 548 serum samples tested, 44 (8.03%) were positive by VN (titers ranging from 1:16 to 1:1,024) and 45 (8.21%) were positive by ELISA, including 7 fish positive by both assays. Antibody prevalence increased with age and was higher in one northwestern area of Lake Winnebago than in other areas. Of 3,864 tissues sampled from 551 fish, 1 spleen and 1 kidney sample from a single adult female fish collected in the spring of 2012 tested positive for VHSV by rRT-PCR, and serum from the same fish tested positive by VN and ELISA. These results suggest that VHSV persists and viral transmission may be active in Lake Winnebago even in years following outbreaks and that wild fish may survive VHSV infection and maintain detectable antibody titers while harboring viral RNA. Influxes of immunologically naive juvenile fish through recruitment may reduce herd immunity, allow VHSV to persist, and drive superannual cycles of transmission that may sporadically manifest as fish kills.