Virus Discovered in Great Lakes White Suckers

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A hepatitis B-like virus has been found for the first time in fish. A team of USGS researchers found the virus in white sucker from the Great Lakes Region using gene-sequencing technologies.

How the recently discovered hepatitis B-like virus is transmitted between fish is not yet understood, and it is unlikely to be communicable to humans.

The hepatitis B virus is a small, spherical, enveloped virus, previously known only in two groups–one that infects humans and other mammals including orangutan, gibbons, gorillas and chimpanzee; and the other that infects birds.

The white sucker is considered an indicator species, which is native to river systems in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States. Their widespread distribution and life-history have made them a target species in numerous contaminant monitoring and effects studies.

White sucker are bottom feeders, spending most of their lives in close proximity to the bottom of rivers, because of this they are in contact with contaminants associated with the river bottom.

In general, hepatitis-B viruses have a narrow host range and infection manifests in various ways. In mammals, these viruses infect and multiply in liver cells and are typically associated with acute and chronic liver diseases including fibrosis, cirrhosis, bile duct cancer, and hepatocellular carcinoma.

According to the research team, the hepatitis “B-like” virus found in the fish is about as similar to the human hepatitis B virus as it is to the bird hepatitis B viruses.

Part of a joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife/USGS Great Lakes Initiative Project, the study, Characterization of a Novel Hepadnavirus in the White Sucker (Catostomus commersonii) from the Great Lakes Region of the USA, by Cassidy M. Hahn, Luke R. Iwanowicz, Robert S. Cornman, Carla M. Conway, James R. Winton, and Vicki S. Blazer is available in the Journal of Virology online.

source: U.S. Geological Survey