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dwalstad 05-12-2006 05:38 AM

Diseased Fish
 
Folks: My biggest problem in keeping aquariums has come from infected fish that I purchased in stores (or on-line). My experience has been especially dismal with store-bought fish (nematodes, ich, Fish TB, etc).

If you think about it, you can see why. Thousands of fish come into a store from all over. Even if only a few are carrying disease, the disease can gradually spread to healthy fish.

Many imported fish carry fish TB-- some TB strains are much more virulent than others. My Rainbowfish contracted a nasty one in 2004 (brought in by new fish purchased on-line) that I've managed to bring under control with UV sterilizers. Fish have stopped dying from it.

I recently corresponded with a vet who works with Asian guppy farms [these farms have (and have had) big problems with fish TB]. Vet would not comment when I asked him what these farms do to make sure that the fish they're selling are healthy. From his "no comment", my impression was that these farms just keep sending their infected fish. After all, infected fish can look just fine for a couple months before they succumb to the TB or secondary infections (TB will compromise the fish's immune systems). The miracle, in my opinion, is that one ever gets a healthy fish from a store. It's a testimony to the fish's immune system and just dumb luck.

There was one well-managed aquarium store where I was (in 1987) able to get healthy Rainbowfish, cichlids, etc. The owners were dedicated hobbyists and knew what they were doing. Even then, though, the imported guppies they sold were infected at the production source. I know this because I tried purchasing guppies that had never passed through the store's tanks. [The store would call me when their fish came in, and I would immediately drive over to purchase guppies still in their shipping bags.] Despite the best care, these guppies all died within a few weeks. I assume (now) that they were carrying fish TB. [I wish that this store had stopped buying guppies from a vendor that was selling diseased fish.]

I doubt that things have changed much since 1987; there's just no accountability. I quizzed (recently) one on-line, retail vendor that advertises that it sells healthy fish. Many of their fish were advertised as coming from Asia. I asked: How does it (the vendor) screen its fish so that the fish I was purchasing does not carry Fish TB?

The vendor's answer was that they quarantine the fish they import for two weeks. That is the extent of their "screening". Fish TB takes a few months to manifest itself, so a two week screening is false security, indeed.

Bottom Line: Fish deaths are not always due to poor care. I would advise beginning hobbyists to (if at all possible) buy directly from the fish breeder.

raven_wilde 05-12-2006 07:05 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by dwalstad

Bottom Line: Fish deaths are not always due to poor care. I would advise beginning hobbyists to (if at all possible) buy directly from the fish breeder.

I agree on pretty much all points of this post Diana. However, one must realize that this last point is not always feasible, especially for beginners, who may not be able to locate breeders as easily as someone who has been in the hobby long enough to have made the contacts and collected the information necessary for hunting down a good breeder.

In light of this, I'm going to add that in the event this is not possible, or practical (as in many cases, if one is looking for a specific type of fish, a local breeder may be difficult to locate, and the shipping costs of live fish can be extremely prohibitive) the next best thing should be recommended, and indeed, it is a concept both JanS and I have been constantly drumming up here on APC:

:D The Quarantine Tank :D

Whether one is a newbie to the hobby or a long time fishkeeper from way back, this is, in my oppinion, an indisposable part of a set up. Even fish obtained from a breeder can carry contagious diseases (yes, sadly this is sometimes the case) that fish in your home aquarium may not be capable of dealing with when forced into a sudden introduction. Therefore, the seperation of any newly obtained fish is key to preventing the spread of anything new to your current aquatic residents. Sadly, many hobbyists do not realize this until they've invited that one seemingly innocuous little fish into their tank, only to promptly lose everything to a massive outbreak of ich or some other nasty (this was certainly how I learned this lesson).

Maintaining a quarantine tank is not a hugely expensive undertaking, in most cases because it is not necessary to put as much money into the equipment (lighting, substrate, etc.) as one would a featured show tank. It is well worth the small amount of cost and effort in the long run, and will allow you to identify any diseases or problems in a new batch of fish before an introduction into your system.

Obviously, as you mentioned with your guppy problem, sometimes this just isn't going to do much good if you keep getting stock that is perpetually doomed. In such cases it probably is wise to find another source, but for every fish purchase I don't think ordering from a private breeder is necessary. For some, myself included, tacking that extra $40 and upwards shipping fee onto for every fish purchase is just out of the question. Maintaining a 10-20 gal QT is much much more cost effective.

Just my oppinion on the matter and now for a question:
What does TB look like in fish? I hadn't realized they could contract it, I'd be interested to know what the symptoms are and if all species can be potential carriers. Also, is there any treatment that you know of?

dwalstad 05-12-2006 09:00 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by raven_wilde

What does TB look like in fish? I hadn't realized they could contract it, I'd be interested to know what the symptoms are and if all species can be potential carriers. Also, is there any treatment that you know of?

Thanks for your comments and emphasis on quarantining-- always a good idea when buying new fish.

Symptoms of fish TB are vast and unpredictable, depending on which of the fish's tissue the bacteria (e.g., Mycobacterium marinum) attack the most.

A few common examples:
  • Blackhead disease of cichlids (fish's head turns black due to bacteria affecting melanin production)
  • shrunken bellies and crooked spines in livebearers
  • overweight fish that swell up (bacteria attack the liver causing unnatural fat metabolism)
  • reproductive failure (females stop producing eggs, as bacteria attack the ovaries)

Fish TB is slow-acting and often mis-diagnosed. Moreover, fish weakened by TB bacteria are much more susceptible to other disease. One study showed that goldfish experimentally infected with a non-killing dose of TB bacteria frequently came down with Ich. Control fish (not injected with TB bacteria) did not get Ich.

My Rainbowfish, which contracted TB in 2004, looked great until they slowly stopped eating and died. The only outward sign was jaw necrosis (mouth tissue being eaten away). It took several months between when I purchased the putative disease carriers (all 4 Neon Rainbowfish died inexplicably over the course of several months), and when I started seeing problems in my other fish. Because I've kept Rainbowfish since 1987 without mysterious and unexplained deaths, I knew something was wrong. I took the fish to a fish veterinarian, who diagnosed the problem as fish TB.

Fish TB is common in the aquarium hobby, much more than industry leaders would like to admit, and its been going on for a long time. There are no easy answers to this difficult problem, but educating hobbyists is a start.

There's nothing that turns people off from the aquarium hobby more than watching their pet fish die.

JanS 05-12-2006 01:14 PM

Very good points from both of you Diana and Raven, especially the importance of a q-tank.

I'm constantly harping that you're not saving any money or doing yourself or your tanks any favors by buying the slightly less expensive "puppy mill" type fish that so many of the chain stores carry.
In most cases a private breeder is a superior source for fish, but there are many variables there too that should be taken into consideration. Where did his originating fish come from? It's always possible that they came from the same source as where we are buying our unscreened fish. Is he just pumping them out to sell without proper care and conditioning in less than perfect conditions? Those examples aren't normally the case, but it can happen too.
With fish like Guppies that are so line bred to get certain traits like specialized fins and color, it has really affected their hardiness, resistance and health.

I do still buy fish from our local store to support them, and they will leave them in the bag for me when they come in so they have one less acclimation and tank of water to go through. I trust our store because they have very strict requirements for the quality and health of the fish they carry, and it shows. I also quarantine for quite a long period, even though they look fine, just to be sure.

If I remember right, I thought once you've had TB in a tank, you need to sterilize the entire tank and all of it's components (including isolating the remaining fish in their own tank) or you'll never completely get rid of it, and could pass it along to future inhabitants. I'm sure if that's true, it has greatly contributed to the spread of it.

Diana, you made a good point about the vet actually testing the fish for TB. That is the only true way to diagnose many fish ailments, and properly treat them for it, if applicable.

And I also agree, it's no fun to watch any fish die or even not live up to it's full potential, so some of those simple precautions will greatly improve the whole aquatic picture. :)

raven_wilde 05-15-2006 08:58 AM

One more question for you about TB...

Do you know how it would manifest itself in tetras? Could it be confused with neon tetra disease? And while we are on that subject.... I have several tetras (neons and von rios) infected with what I believe is neon tetra disease (cloudy masses have developed in their muscle tissue, especially along the spine and tail, as well as spinal deformations). I'm planning on catching them all this next week and flushing them... I've been putting it off because catching them will require tearing the whole tank down...

Could this be TB? Either way, what precautions do you think I should take to ensure the health of the other fish that live in this tank?

dwalstad 05-15-2006 11:27 AM

Hi Raven,

Feel free to ask as many questions as you like on this topic. Since my Rainbowfish contracted TB and infected all 3 tanks, I am actively working on the Fish TB problem.

I suspect your Neons have TB. Fish TB is very common in tropical fish hobby. One study found that over 80% of the 300+ tropical fish examined had TB. Fish were from both home aquariums and pet shops. I'm speculating that the fish selected and autopsied were dead, dying, or moribund.

Fish TB is incurable. What's more, the usual measures, in my humble opinion, make it worse. I went all-out to feed my fish (for a month) with Rifampicin/Ethambutol (key antibiotics used for treating human TB). Did not work.

What's more, I think treatments and cleaning measures backfire. Mycobacterium species are all incredibly slow-growers that dominate clean environments. Some have been found in bottled water! They don't last long outside the fish in a dirty environment where they have to compete with much faster-growing, normal bacteria.

Last summer, one of my Turquoise Rainbowfish had a small TB sore on her side. I put her in a hospital tank containing salt and antibiotics. The sore only got bigger. I put her back in a regular planted tank with lots of dirt. The sore has totally healed up, and she's doing fine as I write this.

I too thought I'd have to tear down tanks and start over. However, since I added UV sterilizers in Jan 05 to the tanks, my fish stopped dying. They seem to be doing well.

The UV sterilizer will kill the TB bacteria released by the infected fish. My fish are probably still infected, but they're not being continuously exposed to more Mycobacterium in the water. As with any pathogen, the number of pathogens that the fish is exposed to is critical. The UV sterilizer lowered that number to a level that the fish's immune system could handle.

This is all tentative, folks.

JanS 05-15-2006 01:44 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by raven_wilde
I'm planning on catching them all this next week and flushing them...

Raven, I don't know if you meant that literally, but please don't flush them.
There are much more humane methods of euthanizing.
Since the biggest job will be catching them, it would be just as easy to use one of these methods. Euthanizing methods
It's never easy, but it's nice to make it as humane as we can. :)

raven_wilde 05-16-2006 12:07 PM

I'm sorry Jan, that was a bit cavalier of me, flushing is horrible, I do know better... anyway, I'm not a member of AquaDen so I can't read that link, so what kind of alternative methods are we speaking of?...

In the past, with bigger fish (cichlids/sunfish), I've placed them in the freezer, this was a method recommended to me over the fishgeeks forum... and I guess it would be the other option for the tetras... although I know there are others out there. Initially I was actually planning on feeding these guys to my turtles, allowing some kind of benefit to be gained through their deaths, but if they indeed have TB then I don't want to risk passing it on.

One last question about TB: if indeed this is TB, wouldn't it have spread by now to the other fish in my tank? The Rams and Rasboras do not seem to be at all affected, which it why I thought this was NTD, as they have all been together for at least 6 months.... the tetras I've had for about a year, their tankmates were added later, before these symptoms began to manifest in... hmmm... late october/early november of last year.

Anyway, I'm hoping that by putting down the tetras next week (as I'm planning a massive rescaping of that tank and will be taking everything out) some sort of end will be found to this. Short of UV sterilization (these gadgets are little beyond my buying power at the moment), is there any other route to take precaution-wise?

dwalstad 05-16-2006 12:56 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by JanS

I trust our store because they have very strict requirements for the quality and health of the fish they carry, and it shows.


I hope to see the day when hobbyists will seek out stores like yours--- stores that make an effort to buy fish from reputable sources and to care for them properly.

With the prevelance of Fish TB in the aquarium hobby, I believe it is worth the trouble (and added expense) for hobbyists to seek out reliable sources of fish.

Most hobbyist fish breeders can tell (over time) if their fish are infected with TB. Unexplained deaths and fish producing much fewer young were what I saw in my own fish and what others have reported when TB infected their healthy fish colonies. Most hobbyist breeders would never knowingly sell infected fish. A fish breeder who sells infected fish directly to hobbyists can be held accountable.

Stores are much less accountable. If the fish dies 6 weeks later, was it from something the fish picked up in the store, or was the wholesale breeder selling infected fish to the store, or was the hobbyist providing poor care? It's almost impossible to sort out who's responsible, so the end result is no one's held accountable. Unless stores are vigilant, wholesalers can easily sell them fish infected with tuberculosis. This common disease often has no outward symptoms and is slow-acting. Its very easy for wholesalers to pass TB infected fish onto stores that don't care what they sell.

Six weeks after purchase, the outwardly healthy-looking fish simply stops eating and dies. The hobbyist shakes his head, wonders why, and maybe blames himself for something he did or didn't do.

dwalstad 05-16-2006 01:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by raven_wilde
One last question about TB: if indeed this is TB, wouldn't it have spread by now to the other fish in my tank? The Rams and Rasboras do not seem to be at all affected, which it why I thought this was NTD, as they have all been together for at least 6 months.... the tetras I've had for about a year, their tankmates were added later, before these symptoms began to manifest in... hmmm... late october/early november of last year.

Anyway, I'm hoping that by putting down the tetras next week (as I'm planning a massive rescaping of that tank and will be taking everything out) some sort of end will be found to this. Short of UV sterilization (these gadgets are little beyond my buying power at the moment), is there any other route to take precaution-wise?

I wouldn't panic unless I see the other fish come down with it.

Here's a link to 'Neon Tetra disease', attributed to a parasite not tuberculosis bacteria. Sad to say, but either disease is incurable and can spread to other fish species.

http://freshaquarium.about.com/cs/di...eondisease.htm

In any event, the sooner you can remove the infected fish from the tank, the better.


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