Department of Natural Resources
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:
How does the disease spread between waters?
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.