Yellow Head Disease - Fact Sheet

What is yellow head disease?

Yellow head disease is an infectious disease of crustaceans. It is caused by the yellow head virus, which belongs to the family Roniviridae.

What species of crustaceans can be infected with yellow head disease?

The following is a list of species susceptible to yellow head disease that do not exist in the natural environment in Canada.

Crustaceans may have several common names but only one common name is provided in this list. Note: the terms "shrimp" and "prawn" can both be used.

  • Euphausia superba (Antarctic krill)
  • Exopalaemon styliferus (roshma prawn)
  • Farfantepenaeus aztecus (brown shrimp)
  • Farfantepenaeus duorarum (spotted pink shrimp)
  • Fenneropenaeus merguiensis (banana prawn)
  • Litopenaeus setiferus (northern white shrimp)
  • Litopenaeus stylirostris (blue shrimp)
  • Litopenaeus vannamei (whiteleg shrimp)
  • Macrobrachium sintangense (Sunda River prawn)
  • Marsupenaeus japonicus (kuruma prawn)
  • Metapenaeus affinis (jinga shrimp)
  • Metapenaeus bennettae (greentail prawn)
  • Metapenaeus brevicornis (yellow prawn)
  • Metapenaeus ensis (greasyback prawn)
  • Palaemon serrifer (barred estuarine shrimp)
  • Penaeus esculentus (brown tiger prawn)
  • Penaeus monodon (giant tiger prawn)

Is the yellow head virus a risk to human health?

No. The causal agent for yellow head disease is not a risk to human health.

What are the signs of yellow head disease?

Yellow head disease causes death in post-larval, juvenile and adult crustaceans. Infected animals die within 3 to 5 days of the appearance of disease.

Affected crustaceans may exhibit any of the following signs:

  • behaviour
    • eating at an abnormally high rate for several days, then not eating at all
    • swimming slowly near the surface at pond edges
  • appearance
    • the gills are white, yellow or brown
    • the head and body turn yellow

Yellowhead disease in giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon). Note yellow heads of infected prawns on left. Prawns on right are normal.
Yellowhead disease in giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon). Note yellow heads of infected prawns on left. Prawns on right are normal. (Source: AGDAFF-NACA (Photo D. V. Lightner).

Is yellow head virus found in Canada?

No. The causal agent for yellow head disease is not currently found in Canada.

How is yellow head disease spread?

Yellow head disease is spread between crustaceans by

  • cannibalism, and
  • water contaminated with the virus.

People can spread the disease by moving any of the following:

  • infected live or dead crustaceans,
  • contaminated equipment, or
  • contaminated water.

How is yellow head disease diagnosed?

Diagnosing yellow head disease requires laboratory testing. Not all infected crustaceans will show signs of disease.

How is yellow head disease treated?

There are no treatment options currently available for yellow head disease.

What measures can be taken to prevent the introduction and spread of yellow head disease in Canada?

If you frequently handle or work with crustaceans, be aware of the signs of yellow head disease.

Do not import live infected crustaceans into Canada.

  • An import permit is required from the CFIA for certain species of crustaceans.
  • People bringing crustaceans into Canada should check other federal, provincial, and/or territorial requirements before they import crustaceans or enter into Canada with crustaceans.

Do not introduce live crustaceans from another country or province into the natural waters of Canada.

  • People releasing crustaceans into the natural waters or into rearing facilities within Canada should check if federal or provincial and/or territorial permits are required.

Shells removed from crustaceans should be disposed of in your municipal garbage.

Do not use crustaceans that were bought in a grocery store as bait for catching fish or other aquatic animals.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recommends that you do not visit Canadian aquaculture sites, zoos or aquariums for 14 days if you have

  • visited an aquaculture site, or
  • had contact with wild crustaceans.

Wash and disinfect the footwear you wore to the site or when you had contact with wild crustaceans. Also wash your clothing thoroughly and dry it at a high temperature.

What is done to protect Canadian aquatic animals from yellow head disease?

Yellow head disease is a reportable disease in Canada. This means that anyone who owns or works with aquatic animals, who knows of or suspects yellow head disease in the animals that they own or work with, is required by law to notify the CFIA.

If yellow head disease is found in Canada, the CFIA would control its spread by implementing disease response activities. These may include

  • controlling the movements of infected animals that people own or work with
  • humanely destroying infected animals
  • cleaning and disinfecting

The control measures chosen would depend on the situation. 

What do I do if I think crustaceans that I am raising or keeping have yellow head disease?

If you suspect a crustacean that you are raising or keeping may have yellow head disease, you are required under the Health of Animals Act to immediately notify the CFIA.


Chantanchookin C, Boonyaratpalin S, Kasornchandra J, Direkbusarakom S, Ekpanithanpong U, Supamataya K, Sriurairatana S, Flegel TW. Histology and ultrastructure reveal a new granulosis-like virus in Penaeus monodon affected by yellow-head disease. [online]. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, 1993; 17:145-159. Accessed May 27, 2011,

Lightner DV, Hasson KW, White,BL, Redman RM. Experimental Infection of Western Hemisphere Penaeid Shrimp with Asian White Spot Syndrome Virus and Asian Yellow Head Virus. Journal of Aquatic Animal Health, 1998; 10:271-278.

Monro J, Owens L. Yellow head-like viruses affecting the penaeid aquaculture industry: a review.  Aquaculture Research, 2007; 38:893-908.

Steniford GD, Bonami JR, Alday-Sanz V. 2001. A critical review of susceptibility of crustaceans to Taura syndrome, Yellow-head disease and White Spot Disease and implications of inclusion of these diseases in European legislation. Aquaculture, 2001; 291:1-17.

How do I get more information?

For more information about reportable diseases, visit the Aquatic Animal Health page, contact your local CFIA Animal Health Office, or your CFIA Area office:

  • Atlantic: 506-777-3939
  • Quebec: 514-283-8888
  • Ontario: 226-217-8555
  • West: 587-230-2200
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