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Ich; The White Spot Disease Cure and Phases

Ichthyophthirius multifiliis is one of the most common diseases encountered by freshwater aquarists. It is a parasite that attaches itself to the skin and gills of fish, forming white spots that look like grains of salt. You may or may not notice an infected fish “flashing”; a behavior that is characterized by quick rubbing or scratching up against logs or rocks. This parasite digs into the victims’ epidermis while feeding on the blood and cells of the host. Some of the common names of this parasite are ich, ick or white spot disease. In addition to feasting on a fish’s mass, this parasite will also add stress and lower immunity. As if things aren’t bad enough with just having to deal with a parasite, this opens up the infected fish to bacterial infections and respiratory dysfunction.

Rarely will Ich go unnoticed, but the earlier you catch it the better. Without proper action taken it will be deadly, especially if the fish are not already in a healthy state of being. Ich is highly contagious, so if you see one fish has been infected, you can be sure the others are not far behind. You can quarantine an infected fish, but sometimes even then, it is too late. In order to understand how to treat ich, it is helpful to understand the life cycle of the parasite.

The first time you will notice the parasite is in the TROPHANT phase. The parasite digs its way through the protective mucus of the fish’s skin and develops a hard shell. The hard shell is actually a cyst that becomes visible and is what makes the fish appear to be covered with grains of salt. It is hard to treat the parasite in this stage because it uses the fish’s skin as its own protective layer along with the hard shell it has created.

After the Trophant phase the parasite matures and develops into the TOMONT phase. During this phase the parasite is still immune to treatment because of its protective outer layer. The cysts fall from the skin of the fish to the bottom of the tank. Once it has done this, it will separate and divide inside of the outer shell.

The best time to treat the parasite is when it is in the THERONT phase. The outer shell from the Trophant phase opens and hundreds of parasites are released into the water. From this point the parasite has approximately 48 hours before it has to find a host to remain alive. This time is definitely the optimal time to use medication to kill the parasite. It is vulnerable since it does not have any protective outer layer.

Understanding how the parasite lives really does help eradicate it. If you raise the temperature in the tank the life cycle will progress much more rapidly. Colder water means the parasite will slowly move through each of the stages. Keep in mind not to raise temperatures to an unsafe degree. Know your fish and plants to make sure you don’t use a remedy that is both harmful to the parasite and your aquarium pets.

Heat is ideally the best method for getting rid of ich but it is merely a mild strategy and not always so effective on severe outbreaks. Heating the aquarium gradually and performing frequent, partial water changes can benefit the situation greatly but may not always be 100% effective. This method will help to control the circumstances but is not dependable as the primary course of action.

Aquarium salt is the best method for eliminating ich because of the lack of dangerous chemicals used and most bacteria and parasites cannot survive in saline. Natural cures, if there are available, are always the best solution to any aquatic illness. Aquarium salt is always available in aquatic retail stores but a cheaper solution would be to go with natural sea salt which can be purchased in your regular grocery store. The key is to use salt that contains no iodine or calcium silicate because those additives can be quite harmful to the fish. Salt or sodium chloride, will not affect water levels and will control a number of diseases including ich. The only problem with this cure-all aquarium additive is that not all plant and animal species can handle a whole lot of salinity. Loaches, catfish, snails and various plants are not able to tolerate the addition of high salt levels in the tank. The recommended dosage is 1 tablespoon for every 5 gallons of water. Gradually raise the water temperature to as much as 82ºF to speed up the parasitic lifecycle. The reason for this is to get to the theront phase where the parasite is most vulnerable, so that it may be killed by the salt quicker. If you catch the ich early, this method should work before there are any casualties.

Copper is another method used when treating ich. It is not a chemical that is safe for all aquarium plants and animals but it can be a highly effective treatment if used properly. Copper is often used as a prophylactic or preventative measure against bacteria and parasites. This is not a good thing because bacteria and parasites have the ability to develop immunity to the effects of chemicals like copper. Upon spotting the ich parasite on fish, copper should be used as directed to cure disease. Once the treatment process is complete the chemicals should be flushed from the tank over the course of several water changes and with the help of a charcoal filter. When using copper as a cure you will often need to add antibiotics to the tank to separately treat infections that come with ich.

Malachite green is another chemical that has proved to be highly effective against ich. Named for its color similarity to the mineral malachite, this substance is one to be cautious of for its toxic qualities. When absorbed into a fish’s tissue this stuff can be carcinogenic which means it is cancer causing and also mutagenic which means it causes mutations in reproduction. Malachite green cannot be used on food fish and is toxic to eggs, fry, and some varieties of tetras, catfish, elephant noses, loaches and small marine fish. It may also damage your biological filter and will likely stain aquarium decorations and silicone sealant. Malachite Green is light sensitive, and you will be advised to keep your aquarium lights off during treatment to prevent the chemical from oxidizing (source: a link to has been removed on 6 March because the site returned no content, available on 26th April 2008). I am not quite sure why it is used so widely in the aquarium industry, because it seems that the harmful properties far outweigh the benefits.


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