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Ichthyophonus in fish

By Carl Strohmeyer-PAMR 40+ years experience
Updated 1/22/19

Ichthyophonus (Ichthyphonus) are protists placed between fungi and animals in Biological classification. They are considered members of the kingdom Protozoa in the recent Biological classifications, but are still discussed with fungi in some scientific texts.

Ichthyophonusis one of the more devastating aquarium diseases. It is nearly impossible to treat, however it is easier to prevent.
This progressive disease of generally aged fish may be more common than many aquarists realize as identification is often very difficult with the proper scientific instruments and a Necropsy of infected tissue such as the heart or brain.

Ichthyophonus Slide 200 x

The picture to the left displays two combined slides of Ichthyophonus; The left slide is of infected heart tissue while the right slide is of the mouth area of a different specimen (at 200 time magnification)

A few possible outer symptoms include:
Please note that with Ichthyophonus protists, a fish can have just one of these symptoms, not all symptoms are required as Ichthyophonus can metastasize in many areas of fish anatomy, often the heart or other internal tissues, but sometimes less lethal external nodules may be caused by Ichthyophonus protists.


Ichthyophonus, heart
The picture to the left is of a Salmon Heart, cut open to show the Ichthyophonus nodules. These same nodules can also be present in less fatal external infections (such as on finnage).

Please click the picture for a better view.

Ichthyophonus generally affects fish as an internal fungus, often attacking vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, brain and also the muscles on occasionally. The result is often a deteriorating fish that often stops eating (making medicated foods useless), swimming in circles (loss of equilibrium caused by the infection invading the brain), and loss of color and scales.

Ichthyophonus lesions The picture to the right shows Ichthyophonus lesions in salmon muscle.

Modes of Transmission to Other Fish (in order of most likely mode of transmission)

  1. Oral route: Ingestion of infected raw fishes transmits Ichthyophonus. This is probably the most common way from my experience. Fish fed feeder fish I have noted have had a much higher incidence of Ichthyophonus.

  2. Skin abrasions and/or damaged gills help in transmission of the Ichthyophonus protists.

  3. Carriers help in spreading of Ichthyophonus protists through fecal discharges.

  4. The disease can transmitted by contact between diseased fish & healthy one (not well understood).

Potential treatments are:

Methylene Blue Baths or better, Potassium Permanganate Baths, increased salt levels (for fish that will tolerate this) of from 1 -2 tablespoons per 5 net gallons.

If the infection is external (such as nodules), a "Swab" with Potassium Permanganate or even Tincture of Iodine may work well, (so not use either of these treatments in the gills!!).
Generally external nodes/nodules type Ichthyophonus infections are the most treatable.

Reference: Fish Baths, Swabs

Where to purchase:
*Potassium Permanganate; Jungle Clear Water
*Kordon Methylene Blue

Some Organic Treatments such as Pimafix, Kanamycin combined with good electrolyte and calcium levels measured by a GH over 100 ppm can help as a cocktail.
A Medicated Wonder Shell would aid this cocktail by adding more anti fungal/protozoal treatment along with adding important electrolytes and calcium.
Other measures for possible treatment (or more to check the spread) are heat as Ichthyphonus protists are generally more virulent in colder waters, so raising temperatures above 82 F (28 Celsius) can at least aid in checking the spread.

Reference: Organic Fish Treatments

One very potent treatment “cocktail” (combination) is the combination of ParaGuard with AAP Spectrogram or the less synergistic combinations of Kanaplex and Nitrofuarzone (Furan 2).
Please note that this combination is a potent treatment and water parameters should be monitored carefully during this treatment (usually about 7-10 days). This should be used in addition to the before mentioned baths (with Methylene Blue or Potassium Permanganate) and water parameter corrections (if necessary).

Where to purchase:
*SeaChem ParaGuard, Malachite Green, aldehydes
*AAP Spectrogram
*Furan Two, Nitrofurazone
*SeaChem Kanaplex (Kanamycin)
*Medicated Wonder Shells

However all the above is often in vain, with the one bright spot that these procedures along with UV Sterilization will often check the spread of this disease.
Other important preventatives is to remove suspected fish to a quarantine tank, in fact I strongly recommend this (or simply euthanizing them) as this is commonly spread through the eating of infected fish’ waste by otherwise healthy fish.

Important Reference:
*Aquarium UV Sterilization; Facts & Information

Prevention of Ichthyophonus is definitely the best cure.

Here are a few preventative steps:

Please read this article for more about aquarium disease prevention:
“Aquarium Disease Prevention”

Please read this article for more about studies of Ichthyophonus in Salmon: “Ichthyophonus Disease”

Other References:


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In Chronological order of writing with the newest at the top

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

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