I heard of the Tilapia Lake Virus about four months ago on CitiFm and unconsciously decided not to purchase any Tilapia until I had more information. I must say I didn’t follow up early last week when I caught up with CitiFm news on Twitter and jumped onto an ongoing conversation with some representatives of the Fisheries Department on the destruction of about 40tons of genetically modified infected Tilapia produced by Fujian Farm a Chinese company here in Ghana.

What really is the Tilapia Lake Virus? What physical symptoms can you use to identify if a Tilapia has the virus?  Does the virus make Tilapia unsafe to consume?

What is Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV) ?

The Tilapia Lake Virus is a highly contagious influenza virus affecting the commonly consumed Tilapia species (source: University of Florida

Clinical Signs of Infection of the Tilapia Virus

The virus affects the Tilapia’s eyes, brain and liver. The visible symptoms of TiLV on Tilapia are as follows”

  1. Eyes will be cloudy (whitish), bulging (bigger than usual) or shrunken (smaller than usual)
  2. Lesions on skin. Look out for sores and skin abnormalities on the body of the fish.

    3.   If you own a Tilapia fish farm, you will notice loss of appetite, slow movement, gathering in the pond bottom and reduced schooling behaviour.

4. Mass mortality of Tilapia fish in fish tanks.

Is Tilapia Safe To Consume After This Outbreak?

The pathogen poses no public health concern to humans but can destroy infected populations. It’s however not known if the virus can be transmitted to frozen Tilapia products.

Actions Ghana Should Be Taking 

There’s currently a ban on the importation of Tilapia and ornamental fish into Ghana as reported on JoyOnline. But we all know how corruption prevents the implementation of such bans, even turkey tails is still being imported into the country despite it’s importation ban some years ago. The government has also assured of continuous awareness program and capacity building sessions with hatchery operators, farmers extension officers and the general public. In addition, the following actions should be considered by the government as recommended by CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-food Systems supported by the FAO.

  • Set up TiLV task force with representatives from key national institutions
  • Set up a simple/practical surveillance plan to map the spread of TiLV
  • Monitor movement of fish from affected farms
  • Initiate research to understand the role of TiLV in mass mortalities
  • Designate and equip one or two national laboratories to lead TiLV diagnosis
  • Facilitate development of regional and international projects for donor support.

NADMO in the interim has also initiated a 24-hour surveillance at Akuse over the outbreak of the virus to prevent the smuggling of ‘dead’ Tilapia to be sold to the general public.

The FAO and other major food research institutes have issued reports to say there is no report of any human health-related issues linked to the consumption of affected tilapia neither is there any evidence for a fish virus causing disease in humans. Despite this, several WhatsApp messages have been flying around advising the populace to avoid consuming Tilapia altogether.

If these reports sign off Tilapia as being safe would you still feel comfortable consuming Tilapia despite where you buy it from? Would you choose Tilapia on the menu from a 5-star hotel but refrain from selecting the Tilapia Pepper Soup at your favourite local chop bar? Share in the comments below.