Betta fish tuberculosis is a deadly disease that is more common than people think. Tuberculosis can affect many different types of fish, but bettas and other small tropical fish seem to be the main carriers. There is no known cure for fish tuberculosis, but if you catch it early there may be some success with various treatments. Tuberculosis is an upcoming worry amongst fish owners because there seems to be an increase in the amount of mycobacterium that causes different strains of fish tuberculosis.
This article will help inform you on what fish tuberculosis is, and how you can identify and treat this disease to save your betta fish.
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What is Fish Tuberculosis?
Fish tuberculosis is an incurable fish disease that has a high mortality rate. It is classified as a full-body, systemic disease. Betta fish tuberculosis is a slow-blooming disease that can take several months for symptoms to show. The fish harbors the disease until their immunity becomes compromised to which they begin to fall ill. The bacteria attack the organs of the fish (liver and kidneys) which results in organ failure. Once the disease has taken over, the fish is at risk of dying within a few days.
It is caused by a mycobacterium that is naturally found in some aquariums. This disease can stay in a bettas system for up to 6 months, which is what makes it such a deadly disease. The fish’s body will eventually become too tired, and the immune system becomes low. This is when tuberculosis attacks the fish from the inside. By the time tuberculosis reaches advanced stages (dropsy), there is a low success rate of treating this disease and your betta will pass from the damage.
How Do Bettas Get Tuberculosis?
It is rare for bettas to get tuberculosis, but the numbers are slowly rising due to poor breeding methods amongst the species. This leaves the fish in poor health from birth where dirty aquarium water that contains a strain of fish tuberculosis mycobacterium can easily make its way into their system.
Like most diseases, certain environmental conditions and stress play a role in the development of the disease.
You see, there are different bacteria in a fish tank, and some are good, whereas others are bad. This bacterium is invisible and is found in many bodies of water. The bacteria cannot be removed, and it rarely affects healthy fish. It is believed that the mycobacterium can enter a betta fish through open wounds that they may have sustained. It also affects bettas who are constantly under stress and housed in poor conditions. Certain strains are found in contaminated pet store water where many fish are kept. This disease is extremely contagious from fish to fish and can be introduced into an aquarium by a newly added fish. It can also be caused by sharing contaminated tank equipment, or by placing dirty objects in the water that carry a harsher strain of mycobacterium.
The Mycobacterium Responsible for Fish Tuberculosis
The most common mycobacterium (m. tuberculosis) responsible for betta fish tuberculosis is mycobacterium Marinum, M. fortinum, M. gordonea, and M. chelonae. These bacteria have been related to fish tuberculosis and certain strains affect the fish more than others. These bacteria have been found in cases of fish tuberculosis, but studies are limited. They are M. trivale, M. avium, M. abscessus, and M. peregrinum.
Interestingly, each pathogen has different symptoms that can be seen in fish affected with the mycobacterium. Some are more common in tropical regions, and fewer are found in sub-tropical regions. Most of these mycobacteria enter the fish through the gastrointestinal tract.
The symptoms of betta fish tuberculosis can replicate a few different diseases that are much less deadly. Most of the symptoms need to be observed in the sick fish to classify it as a case of fish tuberculosis. Just because the fish may have a few symptoms on the list, does not mean it should be assumed that they do have tuberculosis. The symptoms can gradually creep up to the fish till it becomes too weak to fight off the disease and thus they will suddenly show severe symptoms. Different lab tests can be done to determine if your betta does indeed have tuberculosis.
This disease seems to have quite a long list of symptoms:
As soon as you notice symptoms of fish tuberculosis, you should immediately start treatment. The quicker you treat the fish with the right medications, the faster they can heal from the damage caused by the disease. It is recommended to contact an aquatic veterinarian for professional treatment advice. It is important to not waste time and treatment must be prompt. Some fish can live for a long time with the disease and not show any clinical signs.
This is a simple treatment plan that has a higher success rate, however, there is no guarantee it will work for your betta fish and each treatment is targeted towards the symptoms and not the disease itself (which is incurable).
- Move the fish to an isolated tank. This is where they will be treated, and you should separate them from other fish to prevent the disease from spreading.
- Place an air stone in the tank and a gentle filter that has been previously cycled. Avoid using activated carbon as it will absorb the medication. If you do not have a cycled filter on hand, you can squeeze a cycled sponge filter from a running tank over the extra filter to add beneficial bacteria.
- The following medications can help relieve some of the symptoms:
These antibiotics are only available by a medical professional, but they are known to be an effective treatment by aquatic vets: Neomycin, Kanamycin, and Isoniazid.
Can Humans Catch Fish Tuberculosis?
This seems to be one of the most common fish diseases that are contagious to humans. If proper hygiene is not practiced in the hobby, a human with a compromised immune system is at risk of contracting the disease. If you have an open wound on your hands, the bacteria can enter through thereby placing your hands in the water. By sucking on a siphon to get the water flowing, you are at risk of ingesting some of the contaminated water.
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Tuberculosis is a life-threatening disease in betta fish and sometimes they do not make it through treatment. Roughly only 10% of cases of a betta fish having severe tuberculosis infections make it through treatment with the help of a professional. You may need to look into using a strong antibiotic when treating this infection. Always wear gloves when handling tank equipment or putting your hands in the water for your safety and peace of mind.
Related Read: 17 Betta Fish Diseases, Symptoms and Treatment Guide
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