Bacterial kidney disease, caused by Renibacterium salmoninarum, threatens salmonids worldwide. Following devastating mortality episodes in Oncorhynchus spp. in Lake Michigan, US, in the 1980s and infection rates >90%, pathogen prevalence has steadily declined to <5% over three decades in the three state-managed stocks. In this study, we sought to determine if the declining infection rates were associated with heightened circulating antibodies in state-managed Oncorhynchus spp. residing in the Lake Michigan watershed. A single-dilution, indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) was modified to detect circulating antibodies against R. salmoninarum. Baseline values were delineated from naive chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). The assay was first used to assess primary antibody production over a 4-wk period in chinook salmon experimentally infected with R. salmoninarum. Mean antibody response was detected as early as 2 wk postinfection and continued to increase to the end of the observation period. The modified ELISA was then used to detect antibodies in serum samples collected from feral adult chinook salmon, coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), and steelhead trout (O. mykiss) returning to spawn at Lake Michigan weirs in 2009 and 2013. Results demonstrated that about 80% of feral Oncorhynchus spp. had measurable titers of circulating antibodies to R. salmoninarum. The relative ease and reasonable costs of this modified ELISA makes it a valuable serosurveillance tool for assessing the humoral immune status of feral salmonid populations.

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