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Rare disease found in walleye at Colorado lake

CPW recommends no one consume a walleye they believe is infected.

PUEBLO, Colo. — Colorado wildlife officials are warning anglers about a rare disease found in a fish at Lake Pueblo State Park.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) said “Sandy Flesh disease” has been confirmed in a single walleye caught last fall at Lake Pueblo State Park.

Sandy Flesh disease is a rare degenerative muscle disease called myofibrogranuloma.

This is the first time Sandy Flesh disease has been found in Colorado.

According to CPW, the disease typically it occurs in the Midwest, particularly in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska, but it has spread to the West including in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and now Colorado.

CPW said although Sandy Flesh disease is not believed to be transmittable to humans, it recommends no one consume a walleye they suspect is infected.

CPW asks anglers to report walleye and take photos so they can be analyzed at CPW’s Aquatic Animal Health Laboratory.

Credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

“It’s not a shock that it has reached Colorado since it occurs in so many neighboring states, but it is unfortunate,” said Carrie Tucker, CPW aquatic biologist in Pueblo. “We don’t expect it to have a big impact because it typically only shows up in a small number of older walleye."

Sandy Flesh disease has been known to exist for decades and typically impacts a small number of fish in various states. The cause and means of transmission are unknown, according to CPW. 

The disease primarily affects older walleye, although there have been a few cases of infected yellow perch.

Credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

CPW said fish with Sandy Flesh disease look normal on the outside, but the disease can only be found when a fish is cleaned.

Areas of the filet will look semi-translucent, or yellowish brown, with knotted muscle fibers and the tissue can resemble meat with freezer burn. The disease may look granular with mineral deposits, or even opaque, according to CPW.

“It’s important that walleye anglers be aware and carefully inspect their catch when they are cleaning them," Tucker said. "We urge anyone who finds Sandy Flesh in a fish to report it to CPW immediately and provide good, high-resolution photographs.”

CPW stated anglers who discover Sandy Flesh should not discard the fish entrails back into the lake, but should dispose of them with household waste or bury them.

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