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Aphanomyces as a Cause of Ulcerative Skin Lesions of Menhaden from Chesapeake Bay Tributaries

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Publication date
Type of Publication:
Articles & Journals
Focus Region:
North America
Focus Topic:
Health & Diseases
Type of Risk:
Biological & environmental
Fisheries & Aquaculture
Blazer, V.S.; Densmore, C.L.; Lilley, J.H.; May, E.B.; Vogelbein, W.K.; Zwerner, D.E.

During the summer and fall of 1997, an unusually high prevalence of skin lesions in fishes from Chesapeake Bay tributaries as well as two fish kills in the Pocomoke River stimulated significant public concern. Atlantic menhaden Brevoortia tyrannus were the most frequent target of the acute fish kills and displayed skin lesions that were attributed to the presence of the toxic dinoflagellate Pfiesteria piscicida. Hence, the penetrating skin ulcers so commonly found in this species are now widely viewed by the general public and some scientists as Pfiesteria-related and to be caused by exposure to Pfiesteria toxin. We examined, histologically, 121 menhaden with these ulcers collected from both Maryland and Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay in 1997 and 31 from the Pocomoke and Wicomico rivers in 1998. All of the deeply penetrating ulcers, as well as raised lesions (with or without eroded epithelium), were characterized by deeply penetrating fungal hyphae surrounded by chronic, granulomatous inflammation. These lesions had an appearance identical or similar to epizootic ulcerative syndrome (EUS), an ulcerative mycotic syndrome of fishes in other parts of the world caused by the fungal pathogen Aphanomyces invadans. They were also identical to ulcerative mycosis of menhaden previously reported along the Atlantic coast of the USA as associated with Aphanomyces spp. In 1998, using methods for isolation of A. invadans, we were able to culture from affected menhaden an Aphanomyces sp. that by preliminary tests is similar or identical to A. invadans. We believe these findings suggest that factors other than Pfiesteria toxin need to be considered as the cause or initiator of these lesions.