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Dr Fred Kibenge Invited to Testify at BC Salmon Inquiry

05 July 2013

CANADA - Dr Fred Kibenge, one of the world’s leading authorities on infectious salmon anaemia (ISA), will testify this week at the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.

The Cohen Commission will hold three days of hearings December 15, 16 and 19 in Vancouver to hear new information about recent tests which indicate the possible presence of ISA virus (ISAv) in BC salmon.

Dr Fred Kibenge, chair of the Department of Pathology and Microbiology and professor of virology at the Atlantic Veterinary College, is recognized as one of the leading experts on the ISA virus. His lab was one of only two World Organization on Animal Health (OIE) reference labs for the ISA virus and the only independent lab in Canada with international credibility for ISA test results.

Despite Dr Kibenge's findings, federal and provincial government officials reported that they could not detect the virus in B.C., and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ordered an audit of Dr. Kibenge's lab.

Following the audit, in November 2012 the CFIA made recommendations to the World OIE to suspend Dr Kibenge's reference laboratory status. On June 13, 2013, the OIE World Delegates approved the CFIA's request: Kibenge's lab no longer has OIE reference lab status.

Currently, testing for ISAv is done using RT-PCR, an internationally recognized and highly sensitive test that screens tissue samples to see if viral genetic material — or viral sequences — indicative of a particular virus is present. Each virus has a unique genetic sequence, and the test determines whether that sequence is present in a sample.

“It is important to note that the presence of ISAv sequences in tissue samples does not necessarily mean that the actual disease, ISA, is present in the subject fish or that ISA is present in the area where the fish were collected,” said Dr Kibenge.

“Viral material can be present in animals without them actually having the associated disease. In order to confirm whether an infectious viral disease is present, further testing is required.”

“There is much yet to discover and learn about ISAv, including possible effects, if any, it may have on wild fish,” said Dr Kibenge.

“The origin of ISA is not clearly known, but it is likely an existing virus that adapted to a new host. ISAv has been identified in healthy salmon and trout in the wild, with the first detection reported in 2001 in Scotland in a survey that was initiated after the first occurrence of ISA in Scotland in 1998. Other wild fish species such pollock and Atlantic cod can also carry the virus, but ISA disease outbreaks have only been seen in farmed Atlantic salmon.

“Surveillance for ISAv in wild fish is not widespread, and there are very few publications, peer-reviewed or otherwise, on this subject. Current diagnostic tests, which were developed in the context of farmed species, simply may not be conclusive of infections in wild fish. For that reason, further testing and research are necessary.”

TheFishSite News Desk

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