While co-infections are common in both wild and cultured fish, knowledge of the interactive effects of multiple pathogens on host physiology, gene expression and immune response is limited. To evaluate the impact of co-infection on host survival, physiology and gene expression, sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka smolts were infected with the salmon louse Lepeophtheirus salmonis (V-/SL+), infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV; V+/SL-), both (V+/SL+), or neither (V-/SL-). Survival in the V+/SL+ group was significantly lower than the V-/SL- and V-/SL+ groups (p = 0.024). Co-infected salmon had elevated osmoregulatory indicators and lowered haematocrit values as compared to the uninfected control. Expression of 12 genes associated with the host immune response was analysed in anterior kidney and skin. The only evidence of L. salmonis-induced modulation of the host antiviral response was down-regulation of mhc I although the possibility of modulation cannot be ruled out for mx-1 and rsad2. Co-infection did not influence the expression of genes associated with the host response to L. salmonis. Therefore, we conclude that the reduced survival in co-infected sockeye salmon resulted from the osmoregulatory consequences of the sea lice infections which were amplified due to infection with IHNV.
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