In British Columbia, Canada (BC), aquaculture of finfish in ocean netpens has the potential for pathogen transmission between wild and farmed species due to the sharing of an aquatic environment. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) is enzootic in BC and causes serious disease in wild Pacific herring, Clupea pallasii, which often enter and remain in Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, netpens. Isolation of VHSV from farmed Atlantic salmon has been previously documented, but the effects on the health of farmed salmon and the wild fish sharing the environment are unknown. To determine their susceptibility, Atlantic salmon were exposed to a pool of 9 isolates of VHSV obtained from farmed Atlantic salmon in BC by IP-injection or by waterborne exposure and cohabitation with diseased Pacific herring. Disease intensity was quantified by recording mortality, clinical signs, histopathological changes, cellular sites of viral replication, expression of interferon-related genes, and viral tissue titers. Disease ensued in Atlantic salmon after both VHSV exposure methods. Fish demonstrated gross disease signs including darkening of the dorsal skin, bilateral exophthalmia, light cutaneous hemorrhage, and lethargy. The virus replicated within endothelial cells causing endothelial cell necrosis and extensive hemorrhage in anterior kidney. Infected fish demonstrated a type I interferon response as seen by up-regulation of genes for IFNα, Mx, and ISG15. In a separate trial infected salmon transmitted the virus to sympatric Pacific herring. The results demonstrate that farmed Atlantic salmon can develop clinical VHS and virus can persist in the tissues for at least 10 weeks. Avoiding VHS epizootics in Atlantic salmon farms would limit the potential of VHS in farmed Atlantic salmon, the possibility for further host adaptation in this species, and virus spillback to sympatric wild fishes.
Additional publication details
Experimental infection studies demonstrating Atlantic salmon as a host and reservoir of viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus type IVa with insights into pathology and host immunity