- Names: Ich, Ick, White Spot
- Disease Type: Parasitic
- Cause / Organism: Ichthyophthirius multifilis
The name Ichthyophthirius multifilis translates to "fish louse with many children", a title that fits well, as each parasite may produce over a thousand offspring. Although the disease is the equivalent of a skin infection, ich can easily be fatal to a fish stressed by poor diet or habitat.
- Small white spots resembling sand
- Fish scratch against rocks and gravel
- In advanced stages fish become lethargic
- Redness or bloody streaks in advanced stages
The adult parasite burrows into the skin of its victim, feeding on blood and dead epithelial cells. The irritation caused by the burrowing parasite causes the skin of the fish to swell and produce white cysts seen as a small spots. The fish feels as if it's been bitten by a mosquito. It's not unusual to see infected fish scratching against rocks and gravel in an effort to get relief.
After several days of feasting, the engorged parasite develops into a trophozoite, burrows out of the fish and sinks bottom of the tank. Secreting a soft jellylike substance, it forms a protective membrane inside of which it divides into hundreds of baby parasites, known as tomites. The hungry tomites soon leave their home in search of a fresh fish to dine upon.
It is during the free-swimming stage, which lasts a mere three days, that the parasite is vulnerable to medication. Once it has burrowed into a new host fish it is safely protected from chemicals in the water.
- Raise water temperature
- Medicate for 10-14 days
- Reduce medication when treating scaleless fish
- Discontinue carbon filtration during treatment
- Perform water changes between treatments
Treatments must be given for a long enough period to assure that all parasites are gone. Watch carefully for other infections, as secondary infections often occur where the skin has been damaged by the parasite.
Although nothing kills the parasite once it has checked into it's fish "hotel", several chemicals kill ich once it has left the fish. Malachite green, methylene blue, quinine hydrochloride, and mepracrine hydrochloride are all effective, and are available under several brand names.
Dose based on the package instructions, however cut dosages in half when treating scaleless catfish and tetras. Regardless of the medication used, treatment should be given continuously for 10-14 days to ensure all parasites are killed. Between treatments a partial water change is recommended. Keep water temperatures higher than usual to speed up the life cycle of the parasite. Discontinue carbon filtration during treatment, as it will remove the chemicals.
- Quarantine new fish for two weeks
- Treat plants before adding to tank
- Maintain high water quality
- Provide fish with a nutritionally balanced diet
Maintaining high water quality, avoiding temperature fluctuations,and providing a robust diet is the best preventative for ich and other diseases.