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Virus found in local northern snakehead could harm other fish

Wednesday - 8/14/2013, 10:32am  ET

Boater (WTOP/Kristi King)
A boater at the Belle Haven boat ramp on the Potomac River scans the water for fish. (WTOP/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON - A virus that can cause disease in largemouth bass could harm other fish after it was found in a different species in two Potomac River tributaries in Virginia.

The U.S. Geological Survey announced Tuesday that researchers found largemouth bass virus in northern snakeheads in the Virginia waterways. It is the first time the virus has been reported in northern snakeheads an invasive, predatory fish species found in the Maryland and Virginia parts of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in addition to other parts of the country.

The disease makes some largemouth bass unable to submerge, causing them to float on the surface of the water, according to the USGS. There have not been any documented cases of this with northern snakeheads.

The virus has been found in bass, sunfish, and other fish species, but largemouth bass are the only species known to develop the disease from it, USGS says.

USGS research biologist Luke Iwanowicz says the findings raise the possibility that northern snakeheads could be capable of transmitting the virus to the bass population in the Chesapeake Bay watershed a habitat the two species share.

"The long-term and population-level effects of largemouth bass virus on bass inhabiting these rivers are unknown," Iwanowicz said in a news release.

It is not known how the virus is transmitted nor how the disease is activated, according to the USGS.

WTOP's Kristi King contributed to this report. Follow @kingWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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