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Immunol Rev. 1998 Dec;166:365-76.

Whirling disease: re-emergence among wild trout.

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Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, USA.


Whirling disease of rainbow trout is caused by Myxobolus cerebralis, a myxozoan parasite possessing a life cycle well adapted to the natural environments where salmonid fish are found. Whirling disease was first described in Europe in 1898 among farmed rainbow trout but recent occurrences have been devastating to wild trout in North America. The disease is considered a major threat to survival of wild rainbow trout in the intermountain west of the United States. Difficulties in containing the spread and potentially eliminating the pathogen are tied to features of a complex life cycle involving two hosts, the salmonid fish and an aquatic oligochaete. Details of the morphologic development of the parasite have been described in each host but only now are we beginning to appreciate the breadth of interactions between these developmental forms and the sequential responses of the host. Fundamental mechanisms of the recognition and attachment of the parasite to the hosts, how host immunity is evaded and the unknown influences of environmental factors all contribute to a rather poor understanding of the biology of the parasite. Although the biology and ecology of the salmonid host are better known than for the oligochaete host, our knowledge is inadequate to interpret their complex interactions with the parasite. This uncertainty precludes the development of effective management activities designed to enhance the viability and productivity of wild trout populations in M. cerebralis-positive river systems. Improving our understanding of the hosts, the parasite and the environmental factors determining their interaction should provide for more focused and effective control methods for containing the spread and devastating effects whirling disease is causing to our wild trout populations.

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