Fish ich is probably one of the most common fish diseases among aquarium fishes. But how much do we really know about this disease?
The term Ich is a simplified form of Ichthyophthirius which is a type of ciliated protozoa. Similar to germs in the air, Ich is always present in fish tank water although in small quatity. But when the immunity level of the fish is significantly lowered probably because of stress or sudden drops in temperature that they become vulnerable and are afflicted. Another very common way that Ich can spread rapidly is when a new fish is placed into the fish tank with your other fish.
Ich swims freely in the water until it finds its victim and attaches itself to the fish. It is easy to notice Ich even under low microscope resolution, looking like a round mass. Once it happens upon its victim, it will attach itself to the host’s skins outer layer. When this happens, it wil begin to form a hard cystic like shell and feeds on the bodily fluids of the fish. These cysts can be seen by the naked eye, looking like white specks and after spreading more, it makes it appear as if the fish is covered in salt. Upon maturity, the cysts will pop and the parasites drop off the fish, falling onto the gravel, ornaments, plants and anything else.
At this stage they will begin to reproduce into the free swimming Ich that starts its cycle all over again.
Ich exists in nature but because of the ratio of water to fish, it does not cause much damage. But in an enclosed system like a fish tank where there usually is more fish than allowable, this causes infections that can be truly severe.
A very important fact to remember when treating fish ich is that while it is in its cyst bubble, it is shielded from any medication so treating it then is a waste of time, it is after it has falen from the cyst and is free swimming that it can be killed easily. Usually the fish ich life cycle takes approximately three days so to effectively heal the fish you would have to treat them for four to seven days.
Instead of using harsh medication like what many aquarists do, there are more natural ways for you to conduct your treatment as follows:
The first thing you can do is to increase the temperature of the water to between 85 to 88 degrees, since ich do not reproduce well in warmer water.
The next thing to do is to increase the aeration in the water by adding air stones so that there will be more oxygen for the fish. Fish ich also infects the gills thus limiting the ability of the fish to breathe.
Thirdly, add one teaspoon of canning and pickling salt to each gallon of water to reduce the osmotic pressure. This helps the immunity system of the fish to effective combat the ich. The salt in the water is also deadly to the ich.
Fourthly, do half tank water changes everyday. This removes a big amount of the free swimming ich. Water changes are extremely important in fighting ich outbreaks. Also vacumm the gravel every two days.
Finally, while I would prefer not use chemicals as much as possible, if the fish ich persists use a proper treatment specific for ich such as Rid-Ich which available at most fish shops.
Once your fish have won the batlle against ich, they generally develop an immunity to it and will be resistent to further outbreaks. But to ensure that it does not happen again, simple fish tank maintenance will do wonders and changing the water regularly is essential. Also, always quarantine fish that you have just bought for a couple of weeks before adding it to your established aquarium, no irregardless of how healthy the fish may seem.
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