Marine Ich

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Humblefish

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Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans)
ich-150x150.jpg


What You Need To Know:

* Mild fish parasite which is often managed by using a UV Sterilizer, Ozone, Diatom Filter, Oxydator, herbal remedies, enhanced nutrition, etc. etc.
* Can be treated in a quarantine tank using Hyposalinity, Chloroquine, Copper or Tank Transfer Method.
* The fallow (fishless) period for starving ich out of a Display Tank is 76 days. Or new data suggests that raising aquarium temperature to 27C/80.6F can shorten the Ich fallow period to just 6 weeks!
*
Primary symptom is salt or sugar-like “sprinkles” on the body & fins (see photos below):

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Ich 2.jpg

Ich 3.jpg


Understanding Marine Ich

Unlike most other diseases, Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) has been well studied and documented due to its prevalence and threat to the aquaculture industry. The life cycle of this parasite is well understood, and treatment options have been thoroughly tested. The purpose of this article is to give the hobbyist a basic understanding of ich, its life cycle and treatment options. Lastly, observations, claims and common myths will also be discussed.

Terminology – The following terms are used to describe the various stages of ich’s life cycle:

* Trophont: The “feeding stage” of the parasite that attaches itself to the fish, commonly associated with salt or sugar-like “sprinkles” on the body or fins. These sprinkles are not the actual parasite, as all stages of ich are invisible to the naked eye. Each white dot is actually caused by excess mucous which forms around the area where a trophont latches onto the fish. This is the fish’s immune response to the parasite. With ich, the trophont burrows in under the epithelium (outer skin layer), is oval shaped, and ranges in size from 48 x 27 to 452 x 360 micrometers. A fish carrying trophonts doesn’t always have visible symptoms, as the gills are easier to penetrate, and those trophonts will be out of sight. Trophonts in the gills cause excess fluid to build up, making it more difficult for the fish to breathe.

* Protomont: The stage where the parasite drops off the fish, before becoming a tomont. Protomonts crawl around looking for surfaces to encyst upon.

* Tomont: The “encysted stage” which adheres to rocks, shells, substrate – and even possibly corals/inverts. Tomonts produce “daughter” tomites, which are then released into the water column as theronts.

* Theront: The “free swimming” stage which seeks out fish to infect/feed upon. Theronts are the only stage eradicated by chemical treatments (e.g. copper) and hyposalinity. It is also possible to cross contaminate with theronts by sharing water between tanks or via aerosol transmission. Once a theront finds a fish host and attaches, it becomes a trophont and the life cycle begins anew. (This can continue almost indefinitely until the theront life stage gets interrupted by copper, hyposalinity, etc.)

Life Cycle – Marine Ich is most often introduced into an aquarium by a fish infected with trophonts. However, cross contamination via theronts or from tomonts brought in on a coral/invert are other possibilities. Assuming we are dealing with a fish carrying trophonts, this is how the life cycle plays out:

ichcyclegraph.jpg

Credit: Charles Raabe

1. A trophont will typically spend 3-7 days feeding on a fish, before dropping off to become a protomont.

2. The protomont crawls around for 2-18 hours, looking for a surface to encyst upon. Once it finds this, it sticks to the surface, and begins the encysting process. The parasite is now called a tomont.

3. It takes about 8-12 hours for the cyst to harden around the tomont. After this, the tomont goes into “reproductive mode” producing numerous daughter tomites. These tomites are then released into the water column as theronts. How long it takes for theronts to be released varies greatly, depending upon water temperature, which strain of ich you are dealing with, etc. The average time is 2 weeks, with 35 days usually being the maximum (see table below). However in at least one study (Colorni and Burgess 1997), it took 72 days for all the theronts to be released from a group of tomonts.

4. The now “free swimming” theronts seek out fish to feed on, thereby becoming trophonts, and the cycle starts all over again. A given strain will die out after 100 generations or so. Given the average life cycle of ich is 2 weeks, this could take almost 4 years (on average).

Table1_zpsfwf5goxj.jpg

As you may have noticed, the timing for each stage to “move forward” to the next varies considerably. Therefore, ich is rarely in sync. For example, it is not unusual for a fish to be battling trophonts, while simultaneously theronts are swimming around looking for a host to feed on. This is especially true if your tank is plagued by more than one strain of ich. It’s this “perfect storm” that sometimes allows ich to overwhelm an immune system and the fish dies.

Treating Marine Ich

Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) is best described as salt or sugar-like “sprinkles” on the body or fins. Sometimes however, the parasite can harbor inside the gills – out of sight. Behavioral symptoms such as flashing, scratching, twitching and heavy breathing are other indicators of ich.

Most hobbyists will encounter ich at some point in one of two settings:

1) A newly acquired fish in a quarantine tank (QT) – proceed to “Treatment options” below.

2) Fish in the display tank (DT) – There is no easy way of dealing with this. Even in fish only systems, it can be problematic trying to treat in the DT. Copper (and other medications) can be absorbed by rock/substrate, and doing hyposalinity risks possibly wiping out your bio-filter. You have to catch ALL of your fish, and quarantine/treat using one of the treatment options mentioned below. The DT itself should be left fallow (fishless) for 76 days to starve out any remaining parasites. Continue to periodically feed your corals/inverts; a pinch of flake food every 2-3 days will help maintain bacteria levels in the DT. Remember there is no “reef safe” ich treatment that will actually eradicate all of the parasites! Tea tree oil from India or garlic extract or any other herbal/natural “medication” is designed to only help fish manage their symptoms.

Treatment options: Copper, Chloroquine phosphate, tank transfer method, or hyposalinity. Best administered in a quarantine environment. All treatments are listed here with links to more info: Medications and Treatments

Observations, claims and common myths

Ich is unavoidable; it exists in every tank. FALSE. Ich doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. It is a ciliate protozoa that is either brought in on an infected fish or from water, rock, coral, etc. that was taken from an ich-infested environment.

You can see ich on a fish. SOMETIMES. Seeing white salt or sugar-like “sprinkles” means the parasite has successfully penetrated the fish’s mucous coat. However, harboring in the gills offers the path of least resistance, and oftentimes that is where the parasite is most frequently found (out of sight).

All spots are ich. FALSE. Ich is often misdiagnosed. A white spot on a fish can be Lymphocystis (a harmless virus), or something more serious like Brooklynella, Uronema or the beginnings of a bacterial infection. If a fish is completely covered in sprinkles, then this could mean Marine Velvet Disease (Amyloodinium) – a potential tank killer.

Certain fish (e.g. tangs) are ‘ich magnets’. TRUE. Tangs (especially Acanthurus) have a thin mucous coating protecting their skin, making them more vulnerable to parasites. Conversely, fish such as wrasses, clownfish and dragonets have a thick mucous layer which affords them greater protection.
Cleaner wrasses/shrimp eat ich. FALSE. Ich trophonts get under the epithelium (outer skin layer), which is out of reach for them. What you are seeing them pick at is dead skin tissue. It is possible for cleaner shrimp to eat velvet, flukes, Lymphocystis – any pathogen which remains on the surface of the skin.

Ich goes away on its own.MOSTLY FALSE. So long as fish are present, ich continues its life cycle for almost 4 years (on average). If another fish is introduced with ich, the new strain restarts the 4 year clock. The only way to eradicate ich from your tank is to go fallow for 76 days, treat all your fish and quarantine all livestock moving forward!

There are ‘reef safe’ medications that kill ich. FALSE. While these remedies may help fish deal with their symptoms, none can eradicate the parasite from your aquarium. The day someone does finally develop an effective “reef safe” treatment, we are all going to hear about it, and the inventor will become a millionaire.

You can beat ich by running a UV, feeding heavy, garlic, etc. SOMETIMES. People who practice “ich management” have mixed results. Typically, experienced hobbyists fare better than newbies. However, random “mysterious” fish deaths and not-so-healthy looking fish is often the price of “ich management”.

Certain fish are immune to ich. SOMEWHAT TRUE. There is both disease resistance and immunity to consider. The longer a fish is exposed to a particular pathogen, the more familiar the immune system becomes with it and how to fight it. This is a calculated risk however, as one can only hope the immune system “muscles up” before the parasite/worm outright kills the fish. It is thought that these fish develop histone-like proteins in their mucus and skin that kill trophonts. However, these fish are still carriers (so they can infect other fish), but they themselves may not show symptoms for up to 6 months or possibly longer. There is also “disease masking”: Any fish coming from a tank dosed with a non-therapeutic level of copper may not show symptoms of ich for up to 1 month after being removed from it.

Ich can survive almost indefinitely without seeing any body spots or just a spot or two, because it often resides in the gills. TRUE.

All fish have ich. FALSE. In the wild, the infection rate is about 30%. However, most wild fish can survive minor outbreaks since there’s about a gazillion gallons of water diluting those parasites from the fish. In our relatively small aquariums, fish are often overwhelmed by a much higher concentration of parasites.

Once a fish has ich, he will always have it. FALSE. A fish can be “cleansed” of ich (or any other disease) by using a suitable treatment in a quarantine environment.

If ich can’t always be detected, why bother to quarantine? In the confines of a small quarantine tank, symptoms of ich will almost always manifest themselves. Even if you don’t see white dots, behavioral symptoms such as scratching, flashing, head twitching and heavy breathing should be present. Prophylactic treatment is a wise course of action even if ich is just suspected.

More info regarding Marine Ich can be found in the links below:

FA164/FA164: Cryptocaryon irritans Infections (Marine White Spot Disease) in Fish

ATJ's Marine Aquarium Site - Reference - Marine "Ich"
 
Last edited:

Overengineered

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ok. i'm going to begin making plans to remove corals and copper the tank. this won't be too terrible, since my tank is reasonably new with most corals still unattached. will keep the corals in a frag tank for approx 3 months.

Will post a few more pictures over the next days so maybe we can be more sure before taking action if that sounds reasonable to you.
 

Humblefish

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ok. i'm going to begin making plans to remove corals and copper the tank. this won't be too terrible, since my tank is reasonably new with most corals still unattached. will keep the corals in a frag tank for approx 3 months.

Will post a few more pictures over the next days so maybe we can be more sure before taking action if that sounds reasonable to you.

The main problem with adding copper to the DT is the rock will absorb a lot of it (at least initially) which makes it difficult to maintain a therapeutic level. It will also take months to pull it back out and make the DT "reef safe" again. I'm not saying it can't be done successfully; its just challenging.
 

Salmo Si

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That's a really excellent article Bobby. Accurate and at the same time accessible to people who don't necessarily have a deeper understanding of fish health.

The only thing I find surprising and take some issue with is your first line.

"Mild fish parasite which is often managed by using a UV Sterilizer, Ozone, Diatom Filter, Oxydator, herbal remedies, enhanced nutrition, etc. etc."

Whilst it can be a mild parasite, it can also be a devastating one once it gets going.

I think that could lead folk into a false sense of security.
 

Humblefish

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The only thing I find surprising and take some issue with is your first line.

"Mild fish parasite which is often managed by using a UV Sterilizer, Ozone, Diatom Filter, Oxydator, herbal remedies, enhanced nutrition, etc. etc."

Whilst it can be a mild parasite, it can also be a devastating one once it gets going.

I think that could lead folk into a false sense of security.

I wrote that to differentiate its severity from velvet. I just feel if we label every parasite as a "tank killer" then people tend to tune out and become numb to the problem as a whole. I personally have never had much difficulty managing Ich. Velvet, however, is a different story due to the sheer numbers that become so overwhelming.
 

Salmo Si

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I wrote that to differentiate its severity from velvet. I just feel if we label every parasite as a "tank killer" then people tend to tune out and become numb to the problem as a whole. I personally have never had much difficulty managing Ich. Velvet, however, is a different story due to the sheer numbers that become so overwhelming.

I can see your points. Lots of people have it and manage it, which is nigh on impossible to do with the the other main protozoan threats.

I'd still have to disagree with it being labelled mild though. There's too many unhappy endings to threads where people try and battle Cryptocaryon outbreaks with garlic et al.
 
Hi. I was directed your way to help understand ick better as my fish is showing signs of having it. Thank you it has helped immensely. I have a question that I desperately need answering or helping with. My partner put our Regal Tang into quarantine last night and this morning she has red/brown dots on her. Is this a symptom of the ick showing up this colour instead of white as she hasn’t regained her colour or has the stress of it all caused her immune system to lower and now she has something else as well? Or a symptom of rushing her into a quarantine tank that’s just been set up because my partner panicked. Sorry if I have missed reading this somewhere in your articles but I really would be grateful if you can provide any help
 

Humblefish

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Hi. I was directed your way to help understand ick better as my fish is showing signs of having it. Thank you it has helped immensely. I have a question that I desperately need answering or helping with. My partner put our Regal Tang into quarantine last night and this morning she has red/brown dots on her. Is this a symptom of the ick showing up this colour instead of white as she hasn’t regained her colour or has the stress of it all caused her immune system to lower and now she has something else as well? Or a symptom of rushing her into a quarantine tank that’s just been set up because my partner panicked. Sorry if I have missed reading this somewhere in your articles but I really would be grateful if you can provide any help
Can you post pics showing the red/brown dots? It could just be where the trophonts had been feeding, or possibly a secondary bacterial infection is now developing:
 
Thank you for your response. I shall have a read of what you have sent me. I have tried to read some of the other fish diseases you have written about and was wondering if it was black spot but as I say it’s red/brown dots. I did try to take photos knowing how important it is to see a visual, unfortunately she gets really stressed when I point the camera at her. What I do have is pretty blurry and not sure how useful they would be but I shall try attach a picture. My partner may have better look using his camera when he gets home from work. At the moment she is swimming up and down the corner of the tank (which I believe I read meant she was stressed) her fins are not clamped and she has eaten but she still hasn’t got her colour back either. I have just received some ick treatment (API white spot cure - contains malachite green and PVP, it was all I could find) should I go ahead and treat her with this or should I hold off for any reason? She is part of the family so want to do all I can in her best interest.
8936ECC1-F53B-464B-985F-6050778EE6BD.jpeg
 
Sorry forgot to mention she suffered/suffering from HILLE about a month ago, we believe from a very dusty bag of carbon. I now feed her nori sheets daily, Hikari seaweed extreme, Ocean Nutrition formula 1, live and frozen mysis, and macro algae. All of which I have been adding selcon to. I used to feed her Vitalis marine grazer. I removed the new carbon, hoovered the sump of any detritus and been hoovering parts of the sand bed with each water change. I’ve also brought a roller filter hoping it may help. Not sure if you needed any of that information but decided better to than not. Thanks again for taking time out to help
 

Humblefish

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You're in the UK, correct? Knowing that just helps us narrow down which medications are readily accessible to you. @Jessican has even complied this International Medication Guide:
 

Humblefish

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Assuming you are in the UK, Seachem Cupramine (ionic copper) is probably your best option for treating Ich and velvet. Therapeutic dosage is 0.5ppm.

Another option that is available to everyone is Hybrid TTM:

I can't tell from the photo whether or not the fish has a bacterial infection. However, in the UK you cannot get proper antibiotics without a doctor Rx so your best treatment options for that are listed below:
  • Waterlife Myxazin (acriflavine, malachite green and formaldehyde) is used to fight bacterial infections. Often used to increase the effectiveness of a freshwater dip; dosage is 0.5mL per 3L of dip water.
  • NT Labs Acriflavin (acriflavine) is used as a 90min bath treatment for brooklynella (similar to Ruby Reef Rally). Dosage is 7.5mL per 1L of saltwater.
 
Apologies for the late response. Yes I'm from the UK. I've been trying to track down the Seachem Cupramine and read up on various articles trying to work out what the red/brown spots could be. I woke up this morning to find these dots are now protruding out of the body, some are just raised dots but others are a little more stringy, mm's long, possibly surrounded by white (i've never had ick before but presume its similar to the raised ick white spots but with red dots on the end or maybe running through (I can't tell)). Still trying to get a decent photo but as soon as I can get one I will post it. She is now rubbing herself on the filter, which had me thinking she was head butting the tank wall until I realised what she was doing. I should hopefully receive the Seachem Cupramine tomorrow. I am struggling with ammonia now, I don't think the bacteria in the QT is coping and so I have ordered Seachem Stability with hope it helps. Thank you for the support
 
Hi again, so now I’m looking at UV sterilisers as a means to control bacteria and Protozoa moving forward. Do you know what dosage (mW per second per sq cm) is required to kill Protozoa like Ich in salt water? I have found conflicting info on the forums, BRS etc... Most gear seems to be aimed at around 70,000 -90,000 but I came across a fairly detailed article stating you need more like 280,000-1000,000...
Currently I am looking at running the aqua medic helimax 2.0 36w at 400lph. Will this do it do you think? My system is around 460litre total. Thanks!
 

Jessican

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Hi again, so now I’m looking at UV sterilisers as a means to control bacteria and Protozoa moving forward. Do you know what dosage (mW per second per sq cm) is required to kill Protozoa like Ich in salt water? I have found conflicting info on the forums, BRS etc... Most gear seems to be aimed at around 70,000 -90,000 but I came across a fairly detailed article stating you need more like 280,000-1000,000...
Currently I am looking at running the aqua medic helimax 2.0 36w at 400lph. Will this do it do you think? My system is around 460litre total. Thanks!
Check out this sticky for UV info:

@Badilac is going to be the best person to help answer this question!
 
Glad I found this Forum! So many false claims in the web. Please need your thoughts, I have a Marine Ich, I quarantined my fish but a fellow reefer gave me small live rock so I could seed my tank. QT-ing completely slipped my mind.

DT: 400gal, FOWLR
Sump is 200gal
Skimmer and UV not installed yet.
Deep Sand Bed

Question: Does Hyposalinity kills nitrifying bacteria in LR and Deep Sand Bed? Please help. I need to eradicate it first then manage it. Thank you.
 

Jessican

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Glad I found this Forum! So many false claims in the web. Please need your thoughts, I have a Marine Ich, I quarantined my fish but a fellow reefer gave me small live rock so I could seed my tank. QT-ing completely slipped my mind.

DT: 400gal, FOWLR
Sump is 200gal
Skimmer and UV not installed yet.
Deep Sand Bed

Question: Does Hyposalinity kills nitrifying bacteria in LR and Deep Sand Bed? Please help. I need to eradicate it first then manage it. Thank you.
It shouldn’t completely kill off the bacteria, but I would monitor ammonia just in case there’s some die off. The biggest thing is to be 100% sure that you’re dealing with ich, since hypo won’t eliminate velvet. Also make sure you have a calibrated refractometer and ATO set up, since you have to maintain 1.009 for 30 days for ich, without letting it creep up higher than that.
 
Hi again, so now I’m looking at UV sterilisers as a means to control bacteria and Protozoa moving forward. Do you know what dosage (mW per second per sq cm) is required to kill Protozoa like Ich in salt water? I have found conflicting info on the forums, BRS etc... Most gear seems to be aimed at around 70,000 -90,000 but I came across a fairly detailed article stating you need more like 280,000-1000,000...
Currently I am looking at running the aqua medic helimax 2.0 36w at 400lph. Will this do it do you think? My system is around 460litre total. Thanks!
I'm not familiar with the Helimax UV's so I cant comment on it unfortunately.
@Humblefish do you know the kill rate for Protozoa? I do not know it but I do not think it is 70,000-90,000, I think it is much higher probably the 180,000 - 240,000 range.
 

Jessican

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I'm not familiar with the Helimax UV's so I cant comment on it unfortunately.
@Humblefish do you know the kill rate for Protozoa? I do not know it but I do not think it is 70,000-90,000, I think it is much higher probably the 180,000 - 240,000 range.
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