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TB in Fish, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis; Bettas & more

 

By Carl Strohmeyer
Updated 5-8-13

Betta with Fish Mycobacterium TuberculosisFish Tuberculosis is generally caused by Mycobacterium marinum, a bacterium closely related to the human TB (Tuberculosis) bacteria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, although incidents of Mycobacterium triplex have also been reported with Bettas.

Despite some internet claims, based on my many years of "house calls" and other professional aquarium maintenance work has shown Fish "TB" to be relatively uncommon with the exception of cases where the bacteria has been passed around and the fish' immune system has been compromised, this is especially the case with recently confirmed Mycobacterium triplex.
This seems to be more common among breeding and showing circles/clubs.
The above said, be careful about assuming your fish have Fish TB, unless all symptoms are present and treatment for more likely infections have failed.

However Bettas and Gouramis for reasons not 100% known seem to be more susceptible or have been placed in conditions where tuberculosis is more likely to overcome the fish' immune response.
Please read the "PREVENTION" section for more about TB in Bettas in particular

Treatment for Mycobacterium tuberculosis is often long and not always successful, as well low fish immunity due to poor aquarium parameters (including Redox Balance), along with fish age or even simple stress from tank mates can add to treatment difficulties or make treatment impossible (especially since Fish TB is difficult to treat anyway)



A myth I have seen written in a few "circles" (for some reason I have found this myth especially common on certain Betta Forums), is that Fish TB can also cause full blown human TB which is simply not true (only mild localized infections in healthy adults humans).
However it is still best to avoid fish to human transmission, especially if your immune system is compromised in any way.
Generally when the Mycobacterium marinum bacteria infects humans it is a dermatological issue as the bacterium usually enter the skin via small abrasions or cuts when you are performing aquarium maintenance.
The symptoms in humans are usually restricted to skin and soft tissue destruction in most instances of Mycobacterium marinum infection via small purple lesions that can gradually grow.

Another myth about Fish TB, especially since it seems to have become the aquarium fish disease "De Jour" (disease of the day), is its transmission.
Based on emails, phone calls and discussions with my maintenance friends, you would think every fish that is sick now suddenly has this disease.
While it certainly seems to be more common and virulent as per confirmed cases, it is NOT commonly present in an aquarium (unlike Aeromonas, Columnaris, or Pseudomonas bacterium).
So in the case of fish that have been living in an aquarium for months and often years without any outside exposure to other fish, the facts are it is impossible for the fish to suddenly come down with a Mycobacterium infection!
Usually this false diagnosis with no history of possible exposure is simply the result of a simply weak or old fish showing symptoms that are often common to Fish Mycobacterium (TB).

Even with potential exposure, in my experience with confirmed cases of Mycobacterium, transmission usually ONLY happens in aquariums with old, genetically weak, injured, or with poor tank water parameters (which includes a poor aquarium Redox Balance).
In other words, under normal conditions this is not a highly contagious fish disease!

Identification:

If staining for identification, Mycobacteria stain bright pink against a blue background (as these bacterium are acid fast).

However, most aquarium fish keepers do not have the ability to grow cultures or make slides; so the symptoms of Fish TB are usually wasting away, lesions on the fish' body, loss of scales and/or coloration, and especially skeletal deformities such as curved spines.

The fish in the picture above (please click to enlarge) displays classic symptoms of Fish TB in finage, skeletal deformity, and wasting to the point light can slightly penetrate her abdomen as seen in the light spot.
From Testing for "Fish TB"; AquariaCentral

Mycobacterium triplex can only be identified by 16S rDNA sequencing, so positive identification is difficult.

Treatment:

Mycobacterium marinum
Time of Treatment is VERY long and is generally administered for at least three months.
A hospital tank treatment is advised for fish TB since this generally is a very long treatment regimen and a three month treatment of ANY antibiotic can result in serious damage to your aquarium bio filter.

The three most proven antibiotic methods, which can and should be used in a combination of two of these drugs along with the other described alternative treatments:
*Kanamycin (Kanaplex)
*Neomycin
*Isoniazid (from Aquarium Medications Part 2)

A forth consideration, albeit less field tested (it does show lab results though) is Usnea, which from my experience should only be administered in a "Fish Bath" form for 30 minutes. Methylene Blue should also be used in this bath, but no other antibiotics should be used in this bath with Usena.
These baths can be rotated; meaning one bath with Usena and Methylene Blue and the next bath with MB along with one or two of the other antibiotics, then back to the Usnea

Usnea is best as a used as a bath ALONG with an in tank treatment with one of the first three noted medications (or better hospital tank).
Further Information: Organic Fish Treatments; Usnea

And finally, a fifth consideration is Allicin, the active ingredient in Garlic. Mycobacterium marinum) has been demonstrated to be effectively treated with Allicin.
SeaChem Garlic Guard can be used in a fish food slurry preparation and mixed with both Neomycin and Kanamycin for improving the potential effectiveness of tuberculosis treatment.
See: Fish Nutrition; Garlic

Recommended Product Resource:
Garlic Guard; for Fish TB, Appetite Enhancer

Back to Fish Baths; regardless of the medication or combination of medications used in tank, I suggest a Fish Bath with one of the first four before mentioned treatments (not garlic) at least once per day during this time period.
In fact in some cases the fish baths were all that was needed for success assuming these were carried out regularly.

Now for the bad news, from experience and others, once the fish became emaciated I had little to no success saving them.

Please Read/Reverence these Articles:
*Aquarium Medications; How Medications Work, and Which Ones to Use and Not to Use
*Fish Baths, How to Perform

Treatment of Mycobacterium triplex in human studies has shown it to be nearly impossible with only reduction of symptoms, not eradication of the bacterium.
These treatments used levofloxacin, ethambutol, and clarithromycin; all of which NOT available in fish medications.
You best bet with this rare strain (assuming your fish even has it), is to sadly euthanize and sterilize EVERYTHING, then start over.

How NOT to Treat:

The use of salt either in baths or in the aquarium will have absolutely no affect on Mycobacterium tuberculosis since this bacterium thrives equally well in salt or freshwater.
Temperature increases or decreases have little effect and in fact a temperature increase over 30°C. (as with Columnaris) often worsens a Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection.
Temperature decreases has shown some anecdotal slowing of the progression of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, but no cure.


Prevention:

There is not a 100% proven way to prevent Aquarium Fish Tuberculosis (as with most pathogens), however based on my own observations going back to 1977 (working at a Pet Store Fish department and then my aquarium maintenance company), I definitely noticed patterns.
Emails from customers and questions I see asked in forums and elsewhere have added to this same pattern.

One pattern is what I noted earlier and that is Bettas and Gouramis have a higher incidence of both suspected and proven cases of Mycobacterium marinum Tuberculosis infections.
I also noted that certain vendors (wholesale suppliers) would have a higher incidence of TB infected fish, so avoiding the purchase of fish from places that you have suspected TB on numerous occasions may also be helpful; this said, do NOT write off a retailer or vendor based on 1 or 2 suspicions of Fish TB, as it may have been another disease pathogen, as well frankly no vendor/retailer is perfect!.

Also be careful with Betta shows or similar, as I believe that this is both a major stressor AND infection point.

As for procedure you can do to prevent Fish TB infections; there are many.
The most obvious is as stress free an aquatic environment as possible since stress due to many factors seems to be a major factor based on my work and research.
This includes stress from water conditions and tank mates.
Changing water regularly, maintaining a stable pH & KH, near 0 ammonia (NH3) and nitrites, a balanced Redox and ESSENTIAL aquarium positive mineral ions.

Further References:
*Aquarium Cleaning
*Aquarium Chemistry; In Depth, from Beginner to Advanced
*Aquarium Redox for Fish Immunity, Health

The use of Aquarium UV Sterilization with a correctly applied UV Sterilizer performing at Level 1 Sterilization (this will NOT and CANNOT be achieved with the many low end UV Clarifiers such as the Green Killing Machine, AquaTop Hang On and similar water clarification ONLY devices flooding the market!).
The correct use of a UV Sterilizer can aid in Redox Balance and in the end also aid in fish immunity.

MUST READ Reference:
Ultraviolet Sterilization, Facts & Information; Including Level 1 & 2

Recommended Product Source: Level 1 & 2 UV Sterilizers

The use of SeaChem Garlic Guard or similar in fish food can also be used in an ongoing basis to improve fish health and prevent Fish Tuberculosis.

Back to Bettas in particular, a problem I have seen based on patterns that are almost 100% identical and that is many Betta Forums and Clubs will pass around the same methods of Betta keeping that can increase the likelihood of TB infections.

This includes constant chasing of pH, 100% water changes, keeping of Bettas in very small closed environments, lack of positive mineral ions essential to immune response, passing around fish (with constant exposure and stress), and limited gene pools due to interbreeding.

My suggestion is to keep your Betta in a system with a larger volume of water with mall individual containers.

Within this system these practices can aid in TB prevention:


See also the articles below in the references/resources dealing with Aquarium Disease Prevention for more help in Fish TB prevention

Further References/Resources:

*http://www.aquariacentral.com/forums/showthread.php?220754-Testing-for-quot-fish-TB-quot-pics-included
*Fish Diseases; Univ. of Florida
*Aquarium Disease Prevention; Proven Steps
*Mycobacterium triplex Pulmonary Disease in Immunocompetent Host

By Carl Strohmeyer
Copyright 2013


Other Suggested Resources, Products

*Aquarium information for prevention of fish tuberculosis, TB
AQUARIUM AND POND INFORMATION
;
Well researched and up to date aquarium and pond answers, help, and links

*Columnaris in Aquarium Fish (also Fungus)
This is easily the most in depth and regularly updated on the subject of Columnaris and Fish Fungus to be found ANYWHERE on the Internet!

*The Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle
The most up to date article on the subject of the Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle, based on both research and 35+ years of professional experience with 1000s of client aquariums!

*Aquarium UV Sterilization for prevention of fish tuberculosis, TB
UV Sterilization

This article covers many aspects of Aquarium & Pond UV Sterilization from how, why, facts, myths, and maintenance including the importance of changing UV Bulbs regularly.

*
UV Bulbs; Page 1

As noted above, changing these PREMIUM bulbs/lamps every 6-12 months is essential for a properly functioning UV Sterilizer



*Aquarium Silicone Sealant; USDA 100% Fish Safe
100% Fish Safe, USDA & Agricultre Canada approved, the same CANNOT be said for Hardware Store brands!
Excellent for building aquarium systems of multi-tier fish housing.


*
Aquarium Lighting; Basic, Reef, Planted

The above referenced article is easily the most in depth and regularly updated on the subject of Aquarium Lighting to be found ANYWHERE on the Internet!



AquaMaster ULTRA PREMIUM Mini Tropical Fish Foods

Dual-color slow-sinking crumbles specially designed for small tropical fish to enhance palatability and feeding rate.
Includes Probiotics added to help digestion and to reduce nitrates & water pollution.







Atison's Spa Clear; Indian Almond Leaf Conditioner

Clear Betta Spa contains wild almond leaf extract to simulate the natural environment of the native soft water fish.
Other natural botanicals, including Yucca extract, help control ammonia, reduce stress and maintain cleaner water.





FISH AS PETS
Fish as Pets with articles & commentary of Interest to the Aquarium Hobby

*Planaria & Detritus Worms in Aquarium; Which is Correct?

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AQUARIUM ANSWERS;
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In Chronological order of writing with the newest at the top
  1. Aquarium or Pond Bio Load
  2. Tuberculosis in Fish
  3. PUR vs PAR in Aquarium Lighting
  4. Head Pressure in Aquarium and Pond Water Pumps
  5. Betta Fin Rot
  6. Angelfish Virus/Aids
  7. Activated Carbon
  8. Fish Baths/Dips as an aid to treatment
  9. Streptococcus gram positive bacterium in aquariums, Eye Infections
  10. Hydrogen Sulfide
    production in anaerobic De-Nitrification for Aquarium/Ponds
  11. Fish Shipping
  12. Aquarium Size, Fish Stunting
  13. Aquarium Algae,
    BBA & Brown Algae in particular
  14. Aquarium Salt (Sodium chloride) in Freshwater Aquariums
  15. Betta Habitat; Wild Bettas to Domestic Betta environment parameters
  16. HITH; Hole in the Head Disease
  17. Aquarium Protein Skimmers, Ozonizers
  18. Power Head/ Water Pump Review
  19. Molly Disease/ Mollies in an Aquarium
  20. Basic Fish Anatomy, Fin Identification
  21. Aquarium Moving/ Power Failures
  22. Octopus as Aquarium Pets
  23. Aquarium Nitrates
  24. Ichthyophonus protists, fungus in fish
  25. Aquarium and Pond Filter Media
    Types; Mechanical, Bio, Chemical
  26. Aquarium Water Conditioners (also Pond)
  27. Fish Parasites; Trematodes & Monogeneans; Annelids and Nematodes;
    Flukes, internal worms, Detritus Worms (often confused with Planaria), Micro Worms
  28. Aquarium Silicone Application;
    DIY Aquarium Repair & Glass thickness
  29. Pond Veggie Filters; DIY Bog Filter
  30. The difference between Plaster of Paris and Aquarium Products such a Wonder Shells:
  31. NEON TETRA DISEASE
    Identification, prevention & Treatment
  32. AQUARIUM TEST KITS; Use & Importance
  33. SEXING FISH; Basics
  34. Chocolate Chip, Knobby and Fromia Starfish
  35. Freshwater Velvet & Costia
  36. Usnic Acid as a Fish Remedy
  37. Aquarium Heaters; Types, information
  38. The Lateral Line in Fish, Lateral Line Disease
    or Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE)
  39. Tap Water use in Aquarium; Chloramines, Chlorine
  40. Can Black Ghost Knife fish give an electric shock?
  41. Bio Wheel Review; Do Bio-Wheels really work?
  42. How do Fish Drink?
    PROPER OSMOTIC FUNCTION-
    Use of RO Water
  43. Cyclops, and Predatory Damselfly larvae
  44. Betta with Dropsy;
    Treatment and Prevention of DROPSY in all fish
  45. pH and KH problems in African Cichlid Aquarium
  46. Aquarium Gravel, which size?
  47. Blue green algae, Cyanobacteria in Ponds/Aquariums
  48. AQUARIUM ANSWERS DIRECTORY


Recommended Related Information Sites & Products from our family of PROFESSIONAL aquarium and pond websites:

TMC V2 RO Filter systems; the very best you can buy with TDS meter:
Reverse Osmosis Aquarium Water Filter, TDSReverse Osmosis Aquarium Water Filters; with TDS Meter

A good compliment to RO water or for any freshwater aquarium to add ESSENTIAL Mineral Ions:
*Wonder Shells, Mineral Block

For help with your Aquarium Chemistry:
Aquarium Chemistry; In Depth Information

World Class Aquarium Information
For unique aquatic products (most professionally tested) and information;
*American Aquarium

Including the best in Quartz, Under gravel, and Titanium Submersible Heaters:
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LED Aquarium Lights
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For economy HOB Filters that deliver the same or better results over filters often twice the price:
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*SunSun Reliable Submersible Power Head Aquarium Water Circulation PumpAquarium Power Head Pumps
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Sponge Filters that far outperform all other brands or DIY:
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UV Replacement Bulbs/Lamps:
UV Replacement bulbs for Tetra Mini, Cyprio Vorton, Bioforce, moreG23 & G11 UV Replacement Bulbs (PLL & PLS)
*Standard Straight Tube UV Lamps
*UV Bulbs directory

The Best in Value UV Sterilizers:
*Aquarium & Pond UV-C Sterilizers/Clarifiers
Including;
Compact Aquarium and Pond UV Sterilizer, better value than Tetra, Turbo TwistCOMPACT UV STERILIZERS, Terminator 7 watt to 36 watt
*TMC PREMIUM High Dwell Time Pond/Aquarium UV Sterilizers

For Aquarium Treatment Products

*Aquarium & Pond Treatments
Including:
*Furan 2

Proper Pond Filtration, Cleaning, care, chemistry & Basics for maintaining a beautiful garden pond:
*A CLEAR POND; Care & Information

Fish Food Information:
PROPER FISH NUTRITION

Premium Canister Aquarium Filters:
Rena Filstar High Performance Canister Filters

Aquarium Decorations, Decorative Coral, Driftwood, DeCoral, PlantsDecorative Coral
Aquarium Decorations such as

*Plastic Aquarium Plants

*Aquarium Driftwood

*Aquarium & Pond UV Sterilizer Use Articles
-Unique articles such as unique UV ideas as well as dispelling myths

*Directions/ Instructions/Downloads; Aquarium Pond Products

A unique web site with great insights:
Aquarium LED Information

Pocket UVC PurifierPocket Purifier Only $14.99
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