OSU’s diagnostic tests keep Oregon’s wet pets healthy

A koi swims in a pool at the annual Northwest Koi and Goldfish Show in Portland.
A koi swims in a pool at the annual Northwest Koi and Goldfish Show in Portland. (Photo by Tiffany Woods.)

Koi and zebrafish are two of the aquatic animals that have benefited.

Fish can get green around the gills just like humans. Figuring out what's wrong with them can be just as hard. For a long time, diagnostic services in Oregon were lacking for aquarium owners, aquaculturists, ornamental fish importers and researchers. Owners sometimes waited weeks to get lab results. During that time, fish died or spread disease throughout their tank or pond and beyond.

To avoid this, Oregon Sea Grant Extension partnered with Oregon State University's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to create a unit focusing on aquatic animal health. It provides diagnostic testing for the most common fish diseases and assists owners globally in managing the health of their not-so-furry friends. Since the unit's inception in 2007 through 2011, inquiries from worried fish owners jumped 52 percent.

The aquatic health service has developed two diagnostic tests. One allows koi owners and importers to determine if the fish carry the contagious and deadly koi herpes virus, which can kill up to 95 percent of the koi in an infected pond. Some koi can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so the virus can have severe financial repercussions for the industry. In 2005, there were 193 fish farms in the United States that sold $6.6 million of koi. With Portland being home to the annual Northwest Koi and Goldfish Show, Oregon has its share of koi aficionados. Seven of Oregon's eight ornamental fish farms in 2005 sold koi.

The second diagnostic test OSU developed is for a much smaller species, zebrafish, which have become an important laboratory animal for biomedical research. The test screens them for the Pseudoloma neurophilia parasite, which infects their central nervous system and could potentially mess up experiments. At OSU, fish outnumber all other animals used in research.

Sources: OSU aquatic veterinarian Tim Miller-Morgan; USDA's 2005 Census of Aquaculture.

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