Marine Ich - Myths and Facts

Discussion in 'Fish Diseases & Treatments' started by leebca, Oct 8, 2007.

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  1. leebca

    leebca New Member

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    Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans)

    One of the marine aquarist’s devils. So many articles have been written about it. Many are long or are in multiple parts. A lot is known about this marine fish disease because of the many $$$ put into research by the fish farming and aquaculture industries. First discovered (or the better word is 'noticed') in the 1800's and later more understood in the 1900's, we’ve learned about all there is to know about this parasite by the 2000's.

    I don’t want to write a long post on Marine Ich (MI) but the reader, in as brief of space as possible, should know some truths. The aquarist 'sees something' and then 'guesses' as to what it means and thus starts another round of rumors. It's almost a type of voodoo. It's easier to listen to a rumor of a short absolute statement then it is to read and understand the results of decades of studies and experiments. It is easier to try and take shortcuts with this disease by believing the parasite to be able or capable to do things or die from things it just can't, then it is to do the work to kill it, control it, or prevent it by the means that are known to work.

    If you think your fish might be infected, this is the post you should read and follow: http://www.reefsanctuary.com/forums/fish-diseases-treatments/52236-curing-fish-marine-ich.html

    It's time to separate out the rumors from the facts and the subjective observations (which start rumors) from actual scientific studies. In bullet form, here’s what is known:



    Life and Visuals:

    1, The parasite has several ‘stages’ in its life cycle. Cyst in aquarium (usually on substrate, decoration, wall, equipment, or rock) ruptures into free-swimming parasites that burrow into fish, grow into a visible white nodule that is ‘pregnant’ with more parasites, that usually falls off the fish to form a cyst that starts the cycle over again.

    2. Only time a human can see this parasite with the naked eye is when it is ‘pregnant’ on the fish and has formed a white nodule. (The white spot is about the size of a grain of table salt or sugar).

    3. Parasites that have just burrowed into the fish are not visible until 2.

    4. Cycle can be completed in less than 7 days, but usually within 24 days BUT can go as long as 72 days. Literature usually quotes ‘average’ number of days. 72 days is rare; 60 days usually encompasses more than 99.9% of the observations and research.

    5. This is not the same as the freshwater disease, Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifilis) but it was named after it?! :mad: This leads freshwater aquarists to thinking the wrong things about Marine Ich, adding to the myths and rumors.

    6. MI is not very sensitive to temperature changes. That is, increasing the temperature does not significantly decrease the life cycle time. This is not true with Freshwater Ich (which is where this rumor of raising the temperature on a marine aquarium with MI comes from).

    7. MI can live and reproduce in temperatures as low as 50F and as high as 90F. Thus temperatures that would kill MI would first kill or severely stress most tropical marine fishes.

    8. Spots appear then disappear as MI goes through its cycle. Remember 2. This 'disappearing act' is what leads uninformed aquarists to believe the fish are cured. This is the dumbest thing aquarists can possibly think about this parasite! :(

    9. Parasite likes infecting the fish’s gills. The tissue there has more water passing by so there is an increase in chance the free-swimming parasite will get to the gill. This is one reason why fast breathing (over 80-90 swallows in one minute) is one of the symptoms of possible infection.

    10. The parasite burrows into the fish, below the mucous layer and into the skin. (This is why cleaner fish/shrimp can’t get to it in order to remove them from the fish). The second dumbest thing an aquarist can think: I'll get some cleaner fish or cleaner shrimp to remove/eat the parasite. THESE MARINE LIFE DO NOT EAT THE PARASITE NOR WILL FISH OR SHRIMP REMOVE THE PARASITE FROM THE INFECTED FISHES. :smack:

    11. Parasite is transmitted in water (free-swimming and cyst stages), or by falling off of an infected fish (even one that seems healthy because of 9.). This means that water OR fish from another aquarium can carry the disease to another aquarium.

    12. The parasite can infect bony fishes, including eels, sharks, and rays, though many species of fish, like Mandarins, have a good resistance to MI, they can still be infected and can harbor or carry the parasite. Invertebrates, snails, crabs, corals, plants, etc. are not affected/infected by MI, but the MI can be in their water, shells, etc.

    13. There is no such thing as a dormant stage for MI. The parasite can’t wait around for another host. It MUST go through its cycle. Dr. Burgess recorded that in the cyst stage, he found the longest existing cyst to last for 60 days before releasing the free-swimming parasites. This is rare but possible.

    14. INTERESTING FIND: If no new MI is introduce into an infected aquarium, the MI already there continues to cycle through multiple generations until about 10 to 11 months when the MI has ‘worn itself out’ and becomes less infective. A tank can be free of an MI infestation if it is never exposed to new MI parasites for over 11 months.



    Treatments:

    1. Hyposalinity - Using a refractometer, hold salinity at 11ppt to 12ppt until 4 weeks after the last spot was seen. (Best to use salinity, but if you use specific gravity, that equates to roughly 1.008 to 1.009 sp. gr. units). Raise salinity slowly and observe fish for 4 more weeks. Hard to control pH and water quality during treatment. This is the least stressful treatment for the fish. See: http://www.reefsanctuary.com/forums/saltwater-fish/23131-hyposalinity-treatment-process.html

    2. Copper treatment - Follow medication recommendations. Can be effective in 2 to 4 weeks of treatment. After treatment, remove all copper and observe fish for 4 more weeks. Copper is a poison to the fish and creates some stress. The fish may stop eating. See end of this post for other things that can go wrong. See: http://www.reefsanctuary.com/forums/saltwater-fish/23130-copper-treatment-use-problems.html

    3.. Transfer method - Fish is moved from tank to tank to separate the fish from the cysts that fall off and the free-swimming stages of the parasite. Two hospital tanks are needed to perform this treatment. The fish is stressed by having to keep moving it between these hospital tanks.

    4. Only the above 3 known readily available cures work almost 100% of the time. Other chemicals will kill the MI parasite, but only in special conditions (not good for the fish) or in lab experiments (not using marine fish). Some chemicals will only kill some of the organisms, letting the others escape death to go on to multiply and infect. There are certain (human) prescription drugs that will work also, but they are not available to the public and really shouldn't be used when these three are so effective. (Those drugs still require a quarantine tank treatment).

    5. Not any of the treatments can be done in a display tank with true live rock. Must be done in a hospital tank or quarantine tank. The hyposalinity and the copper treatment would kill invertebrates, live rock, and other non-fish marine life. Substrates and carbonates interfere with a copper treatment. Use artificial SAFE decorations in the QT.

    6. No known ‘reef-safe’ remedies work consistently. Many aquarists think a particular remedy works when in fact the fish acquire an immunity or defense against the parasite. It’s easy for any manufacturer to have an independent study done on the effectiveness of the ‘reef-safe’ remedy but they don’t because. . .

    7. Cleaner shrimp and cleaner wrasses are not known to pick these parasites off of fish. (See 10. above).

    8. Freshwater dips can kill some of the parasites on/in the fish, but not all of them because many of the parasites are protected by the fish's skin and mucous layer. (See 10. above).

    9. No dip can get rid of these parasites because primarily of 10. above.

    10. Let aquarium go fishless (without any foreign saltwater additions (e.g., water from LFS system, water from another tank or system -- use only distilled or RO/DI for evaporation and freshly made, uncontaminated salt water for water changes), without contamination from infected tanks, live rock additions, etc.) for at least 8 weeks and the tank will be free of MI. This 'fallow period' has over a 99.9% chance of success. Keep the aquarium running normally -- lighting on as usual, pumps, filtration, feeding inverts, and maintain normal tropical temperatures (78F is good).

    11. NEVER combine a copper treatment with a hyposalinity treatment. In hyposaline solutions it is hard to control pH. When pH fluctuates (down) the copper present can be lethal to marine fishes. When using certain complexed copper medications, like Cupramine, the two can be used together with greater safety. However I strongly advise even doing this. During a hyposalinity treatment, it is hard to control the pH. The buffering ability of the water is very weak, so pH shifts are very easy. In the presence of a copper medication, a sudden drop in pH can cause copper poisoning to the fish. BOTH the copper and hyposalinity treatment poses some stress to the fish. Should they have to endur both? Just choose one and do it properly. Follow the process to make the determination on the way you want to treat the infected fish, found here: http://www.reefsanctuary.com/forums/fish-diseases-treatments/52236-curing-fish-marine-ich.html



    Defense and Immunity:

    1. The fish’s mucous coating can provide some protection from the parasite. The mucous coating is where some fish immunity develops.

    2. When water temperature drops, mucous coating is often reduced or lost in marine fishes, that is why sometimes MI becomes visible on the body of the fish after a sudden drop in temperature. This meant, however, that the disease was present and living in the aquarium, infecting fish without the aquarist having been aware of it.

    3. No fish, no matter how good its defense is, can stop being infected. A healthy fish will and can be equally infected as a sick or stressed fish. What happens is the aquarists sees one or more fish with the disease and assumes because none are seen on the other fish in the aquarium that they are 'disease free.' NOT. Aquarists can't always see the parasites. See above top, 2., 3., and 9. All fish in an infected tank require treatment.

    4. A weak, stressed, or sick fish will die sooner than a healthy fish, but is no more likely to get infected than the healthy fish.

    5. A fish that survives an attack may develop proteins in the mucous coating that will help fend off the parasite (this is a type of immune response). An immune fish will usually not show being infected. Unfortunately. . .(see 6. below). . .

    6. An immune fish doesn’t remain immune. Separated from the disease for months, the once immune fish can become MI infected. OR if the immunity weakens, the fish will be attacked.

    7. Immunization seems to work, but not affordable or likely available to the hobby for many more decades. The immunization materials are hard to make, expensive, and slow to produce. Immunization usually only works for several months at a stretch.



    Subjective and Non-Subjective Observations, Claims, and Common Myths

    1. Some Tangs seem more susceptible. True. :mad: Their mucous coatings are reduced in thickness and composition. They swim up to 25 miles a day in the ocean in search for food so maybe Mother Nature provided them with this as a means of 'escape.'

    2. It goes away on its own. Untrue. Only visible at one stage IF it is on the body or fin of the fish. It’s the life cycle. If it was once seen, then it hasn't gone away -- it's just not visible to the aquarist.

    3. It goes away with a ‘reef-safe’ remedy. Untrue. This is one of the biggest and most 'dangerous' of the misrepresentations in the hobby. The aquarist thinks everything is okay when it isn't. What usually has happened is that the parasite has killed the fish it will kill and the rest have developed a resistance or immunity. The parasite is still in the aquarium, possibly infecting the gills of the fish where it can’t be seen.

    4. It was gone then when a new fish is added, it is there again. Not true. See 3. It wasn’t gone or the new fish brought in the disease with it. A new addition to an aquarium can be the stress which triggers the other fish to reduce their defense or immunity, thus allow the parasite to 'bloom' to the point where the infection is now visible to the aquarist.

    5. The fish lived the last outbreak then died during the second or subsequent outbreak. Can be true. The fish had a resistance or immunity that it lost.

    6. It was accurately diagnosed as MI spots, then never showed up again. It wasn’t MI or the fish quickly developed an immediate immunity or resistance, or the fish is still infected in the gills.

    7. MI can ‘hang around’ almost unnoticed with just a body spot now and then because it often resides just in the gills. True. So ‘it is gone’ after ‘it was here’ is very unlikely.

    8. Aquariums always have MI. Untrue. MI can be kept out of an aquarium. Just quarantine all fish and don’t let non-quarantined livestock get into the aquarium. After keeping thousands of marine fishes, my home aquariums have been free of MI since 1970.

    9. Fish always have MI. Untrue. In the wild they often show up to 30% infected (or more) but the wild fish survive minor infections. In the tank the parasite can 'bloom.' In the tank the fish can't get away. The combination of bloom and no escape will overcome the fish. In capture and transportation the fish can share the disease and thus many wild caught marine aquarium fishes do have this parasite, but not all.

    10. Like 9. a fish can't be made to be totally rid of MI. Untrue. All marine fish can be cured and rid of any MI infection.

    11. Just feed the fish well and/or feed it garlic and it will be okay. Untrue. I compare this approach to this one: "Granny has pneumonia. Let's keep her home rather than take her to the hospital. We'll feed her well with chicken soup and vitamins." :bugout: Nutrition, foods, vitamins, etc. don't cure an infected fish. An infected fish is sick and is being tortured by the itching and discomfort. It might pull through and obtain Resistance or immunity (see above) but while you sit comfortably in your home, the fish is being stressed by having to contend with a parasite. Don't let this happen to the fish. Cure it!! :thumbup:

    12. A new cure has been discovered. Unlikely. If the aquarist thinks they have found a new cure, then have it researched and independently tested. It's easy and cheap. If it is as good as the above 3 then the professional veterinarians, private and public aquariums, fish farms, and I will use it. The aquarist needs to keep the perspective of how devastating this parasite is not to just the hobby but to the whole fish farming industry. Any new way of 100% treatment will make headlines! :eek:

    13. If the MI can't always be detected, then why bother with a quarantine procedure? In the confines of a small quarantine and being there for no less than 6 weeks, the MI parasite will make itself known because the fish is weakened and the fish can't get away from being re-infected by multiplying MI parasites. In other words, the quarantine procedure instigates a 'bloom' of the parasite which will make it visible to the aquarist.

    14. All white nodules fall off the fish and move on to the cyst stage. Untrue. It has been discovered that, on very rare occasions (why we don't know) the white nodule will encyst and rupture while still on the fish.

    15. UV and/or Ozone kills MI. Ozone doesn't kill all parasites that pass through the unit, nor does the water treated with ozone kill the parasites. UV only kills the parasites that pass through the unit. Not all MI parasites will pass through the unit, so the UV will not rid an aquarium of MI. A UV can help prevent a 'bloom' of the parasites however, and thus help in its control. UV is not a cure nor a preventative measure for MI. :(

    16. Spots are MI. Untrue. Probably one of the most problematic causes for rumors and myth-information in the hobby is assuming the spot is Marine Ich when it may be one of another few dozen other parasites or conditions (e.g., pimple-like reaction to infection) that look like Marine Ich. The mis-diagnosis is often the cause for claims of what cured MI, when the fish didn't have MI to start with.

    17. My LFS quarantines their fishes for 2 weeks and I only buy them to be sure they are healthy and free of MI. Have you been reading the above? The 2 weeks is not long enough. Was the 2 weeks in isolation or is the fish's water mixed with other fish's water? Seeing is not believing, right? LFS employees don't have time to closely observe and study the fishes they have in stock, for a full 6 weeks. The truth is out there. . .Trust no one.



    PLEASE DON'T SPREAD RUMORS! :(
     
    #1
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2010
  2. kimoy

    kimoy Member

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    great article karma to you.
     
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  3. cracker

    cracker Well-Known Member

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    What an excellent read. One point puzzles me though. Fact # 14 (an interesting find)under "life & visuals" states that MI will wear itself out in 11 months if never expose to a new MI infestation. I assume it's a genetic inbreeding thing. Fact #5 under defense & immunity states that a fish can develop an immunity to MI in which it still can still host the cyst phase yet not show signs.
    Does this mean that quarantine alone (unless it's 11 months long) without a tried & true treatment is not enough to guarantee the fish is MI free? My opologies if I'm missing something basic here:bugout:
     
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  4. leebca

    leebca New Member

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    Sorry if you had to wait for your response. I've had computer problems these last few days.

    In another section, you'll also read the immunity is not long lasting. This together in the confines of a quarantine and given enough time, 6 weeks minimum, the Marine Ich will overwhelm the fish and become visible to the hobbyist. What this means in short is that the MI can hide only temporarily in the gills until it can gain a foothold again.

    I'm unsure about why the 11 months works. I'm not into genetics. I discovered this in the early 1970''s then later, Dr. Burgess confirmed this in some experiments he conducted. He found 11 months, I found 10 months. I'm conservative so I quote what has been published.
     
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  5. Boomer

    Boomer Reef Sanctuary's Mr. Wizard

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    Are you lost Lee :lol: I did not know you vistied hear also. Maybe I need to get you another Fish Disease forum here also :D
     
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  6. boozeman

    boozeman New Member

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    Boomer, leebca heads off our marine fish forum here on RS :D
     
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  7. Boomer

    Boomer Reef Sanctuary's Mr. Wizard

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    Well, I must have missed that booze :)
     
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  8. cracker

    cracker Well-Known Member

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    Thank You for clearing that up for me. The wait was just a few hours! "The confines of a Quarantine will concentrate the MI on the host fish". Makes sense . If in fact the fish is overwhelmed one must be ready to act quickly! Other than some snails nothing has been added in over a year. I'd like to think with some certainty this tank is MI free.
     
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  9. Ntruder

    Ntruder New Member

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    Here's something I never understood about these treatment processes listed...

    Lets say you have some huge community with inverts and corals and a bunch of fish, and one of your fish comes down with ich or some other parasite. You obviously can't do any treatments in the main tank because of your corals and inverts. But what good is removing a single fish and treating him going to do? Won't he just go right back into the main tank and catch the parasite again? Even if you treat every single fish, they'd be going back into an infested main tank.

    The only solution I see would be to quarantine every single fish at the same time, so that the parasite dies off in your main tank after 4 weeks or whatever. Otherwise you are just treating fish after fish then putting them back into the madness.

    But clearly this is problematic. If you have lots of fish, you can't quarantine all of them in a small tank, that would cause too much stress. And even if you bought a full size quarantine tank (which nobody does) you wouldn't be able to keep the water quality safe because your biofilters won't work under treatments, and you won't have enough filtration to quarantine many fish at once. So the only remaining solution that I see is to get a separate quarantine tank for each fish and quarantine them all at the same time, and unless you happen to own a fish store, this seems a little unreasonable.

    I must be missing something. Anybody know what it is? Do fish gain an immunity after you treat them or something? #5 mentions the word immunity, but then says that it just won't show symptoms.
     
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  10. boozeman

    boozeman New Member

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    :invisible
     
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  11. Woodstock

    Woodstock The Wand Geek was here. ;)
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    As Leebca wrote above, fish can develop an immunity to ICH given good food, water and a stress free environment.

    I chose to remove all of my fish and treat them in a QT. I cycled the hospital tank prior to moving the fish into it. They are currently into their 6th week and are doing fabulous. They have been treated with cupramine and dewormed. In two more weeks they will be placed back into the reef which has remained fallow for the full 8 weeks. The water quality is excellent in the hospital tank and has remained that way during the entire treatment. I attribute that to a carefully, fully cycled tank and weekly large water changes.

    To prevent disease in my reef, in the future, I will QT every fish and coral I receive. :)
     
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  12. leebca

    leebca New Member

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    Ntruder,

    The proper approach to the hobby is to quarantine marine life before adding to the main system. I will say for the time being that this is the 'right way.'

    When the right way isn't followed and the marine system is infected, there is no easy fix. If there was an easy fix or solution, the 'right way' wouldn't be necessary. :)

    Fish do not have to come out and be treated together or separately for a specific disease. This is a hospital tank situation, rather than a regular quarantine. The space for this confinement of about 8 weeks can be reduced to a point.

    Multiple smaller hospital tanks is one option and it isn't unreasonable considering the right way wasn't followed from the start. An inexpensive setup can cost under $50 as a Wal-Mart or K Mart special. After their use, they make good birthday, Christmas, and special occasion gifts.

    The advantage to the above is that it should only be done once and the, following the right way, shouldn't be necessary again.

    Fish can develop an immunity to these parasites. The immunity doesn't last and as the Marine Ich strain weakens the fish can 'live with it.' It is like having your grandmother live with the flu and hope it doesn't go into pneumonia. The person and the fish is sick. I for one do not get into the hobby to hope my fish survive, but instead see to it that they aren't sick and don't need to develop immunity to live in my home. Others may just sit and hope for the best and they will have mixed results (one or two fish losses) or no losses. But what they don't realize is that the lifespan of the fish can be shortened going through these outbreaks, not to mention they being sick on and off.

    It depends much on the kind of hobbyist you want to be. I can provide information for the right way but the application is up to every individual within their own character and resources.

    To hobbyists like Woodstock, I applaud their efforts to follow a right way forward for the sake of the livestock. :thumbup: It is not an easy decision but seems to be in the best interest of the livestock.
     
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  13. Ntruder

    Ntruder New Member

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    I guess I shouldn't say its unreasonable, but thats a pretty big deal to hospitalize an entire tank full of fish, especially considering how common this "ich" parasite seems to be.
     
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  14. leebca

    leebca New Member

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    I worked with Marine Ich as part of a grant at OSU in the early 70's. I'm happy to say that Marine Ich has not been in my home marine systems since 1971. So, it may be common in the sense that a few wild fish have it and that it is found on fishes coming through the system.

    From what I estimate on the fishes coming through Los Angeles and being quarantined for inspection, MI shows up about every 5% of the fish, with certain Tangs in their own grouping of more than 15%. The LFS can be a big breeding ground for more MI, but so many use copper in their fish-only systems that it has/is reduced again.

    I wish you the best of luck. :)
     
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  15. Boomer

    Boomer Reef Sanctuary's Mr. Wizard

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    Multiple smaller hospital tanks is one option

    Yes and with one method I learned from something I read long ago in the 70's, from Amlacher's book I call the "Bounce Method'. "Ick" can not survive without a host, so multi-tanks work. You just move the infected fish from one untreated tank to the next every 2-3 days. At the end of two-weeks there can not be any ick. And at times the ick is all gone in the first couple of days, meaning only one move or maybe only 2 moves i.e., less than a wk.
     
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  16. Ntruder

    Ntruder New Member

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    I don't understand. Why wouldn't you just take them out of the main tank and treat them all in smaller tanks, while waiting for the ich in the main tank to die?
     
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  17. boozeman

    boozeman New Member

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    the method boomer describes doesnt rely on medication. it takes advantage of the parasites life cycle and the time it remains without a host
     
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  18. Boomer

    Boomer Reef Sanctuary's Mr. Wizard

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    Correct booze, they are not treated by any means, par latter maybe a antibiotic for any potential bacterial infections. You set up all tanks the same, so they even look the the same. And the water in all of them comes from the same batch mix. I use to run 5 - 10 gal tanks. And before the first move make sure they are eating. You still have to wait the 4 wks for the display tank to rid itself of Ick before returning the fish. This method causes almost no stress to the fish brought about by hyposalinity, copper, FW dips, anti-malarial meds etc., or what ever. My display tanks never knew what the word "Ick" meant :D
     
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  19. leebca

    leebca New Member

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    It is a version of what is known as the "transfer method" which is one way to rid fish of Marine Ich. Few will invest in the time, effort and extra tanks. One splash over or cross contamination and you have to start over. If done properly, it is one of the three top choices for getting rid of this parasite.

    See #3. under Treatment Methods in the top post.
     
    #19
  20. Rcpilot

    Rcpilot Has been struck by the ban stick

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    Great article!!

    I've just been hit with an outbreak of ich. My own fault for not doing proper QT a new fish.

    I plan to remove all fish from the tank and QT them for 8-10 weeks. I am going to use the hyposalinty method of curing the fish. Hope they survive the infestation.

    I've been reading rumor after rumor about this parasite. I've just been having a discussion on a different board about these rumors. People are telling me to only treat the visibly infected fish. Thats totally wrong. They are also telling me it is impossible to completely get rid of Ich. That I must simply accept that it will always be present. Totally wrong again.

    Common sense tells me that if I QT the fish and cure them completely--then they will certainly not be carriers of the parasite.

    Common sense also tells me that if I leave the DT fallow for 8-10 weeks, I can be assured there is no more Ich alive in the DT.

    No Ich in the tank. No Ich on the fish. I guess that means I have a reef with no Ich present. I can't understand why people insist that it is always present and there is nothing we can do about it.

    Great article. Karma to you!!
     
    #20
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