Host specificity is a phenomenon exhibited by all viruses. For the fish rhabdovirus infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV), differential specificity of virus strains from the U and M genogroups has been established both in the field and in experimental challenges. In rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), M IHNV strains are consistently more prevalent and more virulent than U IHNV. The basis of the differential ability of these two IHNV genogroups to cause disease in rainbow trout was investigated in live infection challenges with representative U and M IHNV strains. When IHNV was delivered by intraperitoneal injection, the mortality caused by U IHNV increased, indicating that the low virulence of U IHNV is partly due to inefficiency in entering the trout host. Analyses of in vivo replication showed that U IHNV consistently had lower prevalence and lower viral load than M IHNV during the course of infection. In analyses of the host immune response, M IHNV-infected fish consistently had higher and longer expression of innate immune-related genes such as Mx-1. This suggests that the higher virulence of M IHNV is not due to suppression of the immune response in rainbow trout. Taken together, the results support a kinetics hypothesis wherein faster replication enables M IHNV to rapidly achieve a threshold level of virus necessary to override the strong host innate immune response. ?? 2009 SGM.