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Wisconsin gets federal grant for VHS sampling

Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say the state has received a $141,724 federal to sample fish in 2009 for VHS fish disease.

"This is really good news," says Mike Staggs, DNR fisheries director. "The grant will allow DNR to continue our VHS monitoring in wild fish populations across the state with most of the testing directed toward waters that previously have not been tested."

Staggs says the grant money for DNR's sampling activity for viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, is a welcome financial shot in the arm during tight state budget times.

The virus does not affect humans but it can infect and kill dozens of fish species and can spread rapidly fish to fish and through contaminated water.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and follows a $38,500 grant the DNR received in 2008 from that agency for VHS testing this spring.

The DNR used the 2008 grant from APHIS to collect fish from 67 different waters and have them tested by the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison, the La Crosse Fish Health Center and a private lab in Maine to assess the prevalence of VHS in Wisconsin.

VHS, or Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, is a deadly fish virus and an invasive species that was diagnosed for the first time ever in the Great Lakes as the cause of large fish kills in lakes Huron, St. Clair, Erie, Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River in 2005 and 2006, according to DNR officials.

In 2007, the year in which VHS was first diagnosed in state fish, the DNR collected fish from more than 50 waters for the virus.

Across those two years of testing, only fish from the Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan systems have tested positive for VHS, which was first detected in Wisconsin in May 2007.