Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS)

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) is an extremely serious viral disease of fresh and saltwater fish. It has recently spread into the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. VHS virus has been found in Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, and the St. Lawrence River in New York. The virus also has infected several inland lakes in New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The disease can cause large-scale fish kills and have severe economic consequences.

What are the symptoms?
At a low level of infection, fish might not display any noticeable symptoms. As the infection intensifies, fish will display widespread hemorrhages (bleeding) throughout body surface (eye, skin and fins) and within the internal organs (swim bladder, intestine, kidney, etc.). Because of the bleeding, gills and liver might appear pale. Sick fish often will be listless, swim in circles, and frequently are observed at the surface of the water.
NOTE: Confirming VHS infection requires laboratory testing. A diagnosis cannot be made based solely on observation because many different diseases of fish have very similar symptoms.

Will the virus affect humans?
No. The virus will not affect humans regardless of whether you touch or eat it because it dies at human body temperatures.

Where has VHS been found in Michigan waters?
To date, we have found VHS in the following waters: Lake Huron including Saginaw Bay, the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River, Lake Erie and all tributaries up to the first dam or barrier. VHS also has been documented in Budd Lake in Clare County and in Baseline Lake in Washtenaw County. As other areas are identified positive for VHS, they will be listed online at www.michigan.gov/vhs.

What about other waters in Michigan?
While VHS has not yet been confirmed in all waters of the state, other areas are at risk for VHS infection. To prevent or slow the spread of VHS to other waters, anglers are reminded to keep the following tips in mind when using baitfish:

  • Learn to identify the species of baitfish you are using. Species known to be susceptible to VHS and typically used as live bait include emerald shiners, spottail shiners, and white suckers. Other species occasionally used as bait that are susceptible to VHS include bluntnose minnows, trout perch, gizzard shad, shorthead redhorse, and silver redhorse.
  • Request that your local bait store sell baitfish that are certified disease-free.
  • Purchase and use only baitfish that are certified disease-free.
  • Never move live fish between bodies of water.
  • Check the Michigan Fishing Guide for current regulations and follow the regulations restricting baitfish use.
  • Disinfect bait bucket between uses.

How does the disease spread between waters?

  1. Moving VHS-infected fish from one body of water to another. This includes live gamefish caught in an infected body of water and released in another water, or live baitfish caught or used in an infected body of water and transported, used or released into another body of water.
  2. Moving infected water from one body of water and discharging into another. Examples would be the discharge of infected water and fish from ships, discharge of infected water from live wells on fishing boats, and discharge of infected bilge water from recreational and fishing boats.
  3. Stocking or releasing VHS-infected fish or water from infected fish hatcheries.
  4. The natural movement of infected fish from one body of water to another.

Protect the waters that supply our hatcheries
To protect hatchery stocks of fish from possible VHS infection, the use of baitfish and roe (fish eggs) is prohibited in certain waters of the state, including portions of the following waters in Benzie, Chippewa and Marquette counties. 

  • Benzie County: Brundage, Kinney and Stanley Creeks.
  • Chippewa County: Pendills Lake (T47N, R4W, S25, 26) and Pendills, Sullivan and Viddian Creeks.
  • Marquette County: Cherry Creek.

VHS Clinical Signs (photos)