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Ellen Haynes, Kristin Stanford, Megan Gramhofer, Kathryn Vivirito, Kennymac Durante, Allison Wright, Csaba Varga, Matthew C. Allender
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Ophidiomycosis, caused by the fungus Ophidiomyces ophidiicola, is an infectious disease of wild and managed snakes worldwide. Lake Erie watersnakes (LEWS; Nerodia sipedon insularum) were listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act from 1999 to 2011 and were first diagnosed with ophidiomycosis in 2009. Our objective was to characterize the epidemiology of ophidiomycosis in LEWS. We hypothesized that the prevalence of skin lesions, O. ophidiicola DNA, and ophidiomycosis disease categories would show spatial and temporal variation and clustering, with higher prevalence at sites with greater human disturbance and prevalence increasing over time. Snakes were captured via visual encounter surveys at five sites across four islands and visually inspected for skin lesions suggestive of ophidiomycosis; then body swabs were collected to detect O. ophidiicola DNA using quantitative PCR. Each snake was assigned an ophidiomycosis category based on the presence of skin lesions and O. ophidiicola. We evaluated 837 LEWS between 2017 and 2020 and detected ophidiomycosis at all five sites. Logistic regression analysis showed temporal and spatial variation in disease, with higher risk of apparent ophidiomycosis (lesions present and O. ophidiicola detected) at Kelleys Island State Park, compared to all other sites; in May, compared to July; and in 2019, compared to 2018. The presence of emerging herbaceous wetlands, urban land change, and certain soil types increased the odds of both lesion presence and quantitative PCR detection of O. ophidiicola. Overall, ophidiomycosis epidemiology varied among sites: the disease appeared to be endemic at most sites and emerging at one site. Ongoing efforts to monitor population health and mortality associated with disease prevalence are needed to inform mitigation aimed at reducing the impact of ophidiomycosis in LEWS.

© Wildlife Disease Association 2022
Ellen Haynes, Kristin Stanford, Megan Gramhofer, Kathryn Vivirito, Kennymac Durante, Allison Wright, Csaba Varga, and Matthew C. Allender "EPIDEMIOLOGY OF OPHIDIOMYCOSIS IN LAKE ERIE WATERSNAKES (NERODIA SIPEDON INSULARUM)," Journal of Wildlife Diseases 58(1), 100-113, (4 January 2022).
Received: 29 June 2021; Accepted: 30 September 2021; Published: 4 January 2022
Lake Erie watersnake
Nerodia sipedon insularum
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