Since 1999, large-scale mortalities of fish-eating birds have been observed on the Great Lakes, and more specifically on Lake Erie. Type E botulism has been established as the primary cause of death. The mechanism of type E botulism exposure in fish-eating birds is unclear. Given that these birds are thought to eat live fish exclusively, it seems likely that their prey play a key role in the process, but the role of fish as potential transport vectors of botulinum neurotoxin type E (BoNT/E) to birds has not been adequately investigated. Between June 2003 and April 2004 a methodological model for exposing fish to Clostridium botulinum was developed and used to compare the sensitivity of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), round goby (Neogobius melanostomas), walleye (Stizostedion vitreum), and yellow perch (Perca flavescens) to four doses (0, 800, 1,500, and 4,000 Mouse Lethal Doses) of Clostridium botulinum type E neurotoxin. Each fish species expressed unique changes in both behavior and skin pigmentation prior to death. Yellow perch survived significantly longer (P<0.05) than the three other species at all toxin treatments. Results of this study suggest that live fish can represent a significant vector for transfer of BoNT/E to birds.
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Vol. 42 • No. 3