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Friday, October 12, 2007

Types of Fish Diseases

There are two broad categories of disease that affect fish, infectious and non-infectious diseases. Infectious diseases are caused by pathogenic organisms present in the environment or carried by other fish. They are contagious diseases, and some type of treatment may be necessary to control the disease outbreak. In contrast, non-infectious diseases are caused by environmental problems, nutritional deficiencies, or genetic anomalies; they are not contagious and usually cannot be cured by medications.
Infectious diseases. Infectious diseases are broadly categorized as parasitic, bacterial, viral, or fungal diseases.

Parasitic diseases of fish are most frequently caused by small microscopic organisms called protozoa which live in the aquatic environment. There are a variety of protozoans which infest the gills and skin of fish causing irritation, weight loss, and eventually death. Most protozoan infections are relatively easy to control using standard fishery chemicals such as copper sulfate, formalin, or potassium permanganate. Information on specific diseases and proper use of fishery chemicals is available from your aquaculture extension specialist.

Bacterial diseases are often internal infections and require treatment with medicated feeds containing antibiotics which are approved for use in fish by the Food and Drug Administration. Typically fish infected with a bacterial disease will have hemorrhagic spots or ulcers along the body wall and around the eyes and mouth. They may also have an enlarged, fluid-filled abdomen, and protruding eyes. Bacterial diseases can also be external, resulting in erosion of skin and ulceration. Columnaris is an example of an external bacterial infection which may be caused by rough handling.

Viral diseases are impossible to distinguish from bacterial diseases without special laboratory tests. They are difficult to diagnose and there are no specific medications available to cure viral infections of fish. The most important viral infection which affects fish production in the southeastern United States is Channel Catfish Virus Disease, caused by a herpes virus. Consultation with an aquaculture or fish health specialist is recommended if you suspect a bacterial or viral disease is killing your fish.

Fungal diseases are the fourth type of infectious disease. Fungal spores are common in the aquatic environment, but do not usually cause disease in healthy fish. When fish are infected with an external parasite, bacterial infection, or injured by handling, the fungi can colonize damaged tissue on the exterior of the fish. These areas appear to have a cottony growth or may appear as brown matted areas when the fish are removed from the water. Formalin or potassium permanganate are effective against most fungal infections. Since fungi are usually a secondary problem it is important to diagnose the original problem and correct it as well.

Non-infectious diseases. Non-infectious diseases can be broadly categorized as environmental, nutritional, or genetic.

Environmental diseases are the most important in commercial aquaculture. Environmental diseases include low dissolved oxygen, high ammonia, high nitrite or natural or man-made toxins in the aquatic environment. Proper techniques of managing water quality will enable producers to prevent most environmental diseases. There are separate IFAS publications which address water quality management in greater detail.

Nutritional diseases can be very difficult to diagnose. A classic example of a nutritional disease of catfish is "broken back disease," caused by vitamin C deficiency. The lack of dietary vitamin C contributes to improper bone development, resulting in deformation of the spinal column. Another important nutritional disease of catfish is "no blood disease" which may be related to a folic acid deficiency. Affected fish become anemic and may die. The condition seems to disappear when the deficient feed is discarded and a new feed provided. Additional information on nutrition of fish is available through your aquaculture veterinary extension specialist.

Genetic abnormalities include conformational oddities such as lack of a tail or presence of an extra tail. Most of these are of minimal significance; however, it is important to bring in unrelated fish for use as broodstock every few years to minimize inbreeding.

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