An epidemiological model of virus transmission in salmonid fishes of the Columbia River Basin

Ecological Modelling
By: , and 



We have developed a dynamic epidemiological model informed by records of viral presence and genotypes to evaluate potential transmission routes maintaining a viral pathogen in economically and culturally important anadromous fish populations. In the Columbia River Basin, infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) causes severe disease, predominantly in juvenile steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and less frequently in Chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha). Mortality events following IHNV infection can be devastating for individual hatchery programs. Despite reports of high local mortality and extensive surveillance efforts, there are questions about how viral transmission is maintained. Modeling this system offers important insights into disease transmission in natural aquatic systems, as well as about the data requirements for generating accurate estimates about transmission routes and infection probabilities. We simulated six scenarios in which testing rates and the relative importance of different transmission routes varied. The simulations demonstrated that the model accurately identified routes of transmission and inferred infection probabilities accurately when there was testing of all cohort-sites. When testing records were incomplete, the model accurately inferred which transmission routes exposed particular cohort-sites but generated biased infection probabilities given exposure. After validating the model and generating guidelines for result interpretation, we applied the model to data from 14 annual cohorts (2000–2013) at 24 focal sites in a sub-region of the Columbia River Basin, the lower Columbia River (LCR), to quantify the relative importance of potential transmission routes in this focal sub-region. We demonstrate that exposure to IHNV via the return migration of adult fish is an important route for maintaining IHNV in the LCR sub-region, and the probability of infection following this exposure was relatively high at 0.16. Although only 1% of cohort-sites experienced self-exposure by infected juvenile fish, this transmission route had the greatest probability of infection (0.22). Increased testing and/or determining whether transmission can occur from cohort-sites without testing records (e.g., determining there was no testing record because there were no fish at the cohort-site) are expected to improve inference about infection probabilities. Increased use of secure water supplies and continued use of biosecurity protocols may reduce IHNV transmission from adult fish and juvenile fish within the site, respectively, to juvenile salmonids at hatcheries. Models and conclusions from this study are potentially relevant to understanding the relative importance of transmission routes for other important aquatic pathogens in salmonids, including the agents of bacterial kidney disease and coldwater disease, and the basic approach may be useful for other pathogens and hosts in other geographic regions.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title An epidemiological model of virus transmission in salmonid fishes of the Columbia River Basin
Series title Ecological Modelling
DOI 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2018.03.002
Volume 377
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Western Fisheries Research Center
Description 15 p.
First page 1
Last page 15