A common clinical sign of ichthyophoniasis in herring and trout is “sandpaper” skin, a roughening of the epidermis characterized by the appearance of small papules, followed by ulceration and sloughing of the epithelium; early investigators hypothesized that these ulcers might be a means of transmitting the parasite, Ichthyophonus sp., without the necessity of ingesting an infected host. We examined the cells associated with the epidermal lesions and confirmed that they were viable Ichthyophonus sp. cells that were readily released from the skin into the mucous layer and ultimately into the aquatic environment. The released cells were infectious when injected into the body cavity of specific-pathogen-free herring. Our hypothesis is that different mechanisms of transmission occur in carnivorous and planktivorous hosts: Planktonic feeders become infected by ingestion of ulcer-derived cells, while carnivores become infected by ingestion of whole infected fish.

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