You are on page 1of 7

IIIB 10.

Diagnosing Fish Diseases


Background
My sh has Ich! This is a common complaint from people who keep sh as a hobby. Beyond the hobby trade, disease in aquatic animals is quite an important issue, especially if you own an aquaculture operation. Diseases that can kill the animals can adversely affect the production of the sh or shrimp farm and lower income. Disease is an unhealthy condition of an aquatic animal that impairs normal physiological functions. It can be caused by poor water-quality management, nutritional imbalance, genetic disorder, physical injury, pollution, and poor sanitation, as well as by pathogenic organisms. There are two broad categories of sh diseases: infectious and noninfectious. Infectious diseases are caused by pathogenic organisms in the environment or carried by other sh. They are contagious and can possibly be treated with antibiotics and other medicines. Noninfectious diseases are caused by environmental factors, genetic defects, parasites, or nutritional deciencies. They are not contagious and cannot be treated with medications. Infectious diseases can be divided into four categories: 1. Parasitic. Parasites obtain their food from their hosts, causing stress and poor health in the host organism that leads to an increased susceptibility to other diseases. While many people think of worms when parasites are mentioned, parasitic infections are often caused by microscopic protozoans. These organisms occur naturally in the aquatic environment and infest and attack the skin, eyes, mouth, gills and intestinal cavities of aquatic organisms, resulting in severe irritation, decreased appetite, loss of vigor, weight loss, and eventual death. Most protozoan outbreaks can be treated with chemicals such as magnesium sulfate or acetic acid. 2. Bacterial. Bacteria are microscopic single celled organisms that exist everywhere life does. Diseases caused by bacteria are often internal infections that can be treated with medicated antibiotic feeds. Typical signs are hemorrhagic ulcers or sores on the body and around the eyes and mouth, deteriorating skin, and protruding eyes. 3. Viral. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria, so tiny and simple they can be observed only with an electron microscope. They live and reproduce in living cells so they cannot be treated with chemicals because the chemicals would also kill the host cells. Viruses can survive outside the body for extended periods of time and some can even survive freezing and drying. It is not always possible to differentiate infections caused by viruses and bacteria without special and expensive laboratory tests. Viral diseases are the most difcult to diagnose and few antiviral vaccines exist. Vaccines can prevent viral infections in aquatic organisms by building up their immune antibodies, but the only effective way to treat viral infections is to remove the diseased sh from the population to prevent the disease from spreading to other individuals.

4. Fungal. Fungal spores are common in aquatic environments but are usually not a problem in healthy sh. When sh are attacked and weakened by other pathogens or parasites, fungi will colonize damaged tissue, and a white cottony growth will appear. Most fungal infections can be treated with hydrogen peroxide. Fish are constantly surrounded by all of these potential pathogens in their aquatic environment. In nature, sick sh are quickly removed from the population by predators, and sh are much less crowded than those grown in captivity. In aquaculture systems, sh are stocked in high densities, resulting in stressful conditions that can lead to disease and parasitic problems that spread quickly. Disease is a relationship between a pathogen, a host, and the environment. Serious disease problems occur only when all three factors are present: 1. A susceptible host 2. A host-specic pathogen 3. An environment that is favorable to the disease state

Diseases affect many aquacultured species, including Cultured food shescatsh, tilapia, rainbow trout, salmon, shrimp, shellsh Fish cultured for baitathead minnows, goldsh, crawsh, golden shiners Fish for stocking ponds and sport shingmullet, trout, channel catsh, bass Ornamental speciesgoldsh, angelsh, guppies, platys, swordtails

Diseases in natural ecosystems occur under a number of conditions including High host population densitiesA more stressful environment leads to lowered immunity and increased disease and parasite problems. Unusual temperaturesCan cause stress that results in weakened and unhealthy sh populations Environmental stressorsUnfavorable pH levels, high ammonia or nitrite levels, high turbidity, and algae blooms that deplete dissolved oxygen levels Introduced pathogensNative sh populations lack immunity to the introduced pathogens. Introduced hostsFish new to an environment often lack resistance to local pathogens and parasites.

Many factors affect how an aquatic organism resists disease. Fish possess four natural protective barriers against infection: 1. MucusThis slime coat creates a physical barrier that limits the entry of disease. It contains enzymes and antibodies that can kill invading pathogens. When this mucus is wiped off during capture or transport, disease pathogens can more readily infect the sh. 2. Scales and skinThey function as strong protective barriers against injury. When rough handling breaks off scales, an entry point is opened for bacteria and other organisms to attack the sh.

3. InammationThis is a cellular protective response to an invading pathogen that protects sh by creating an internal barrier that walls off and attempts to destroy the invading protein pathogen. 4. AntibodiesJust as in humans, antibodies are immune response molecules that naturally respond to invading pathogens. When a sh is affected by a pathogen for the rst time, the sh will produce antigens, which are antibodies that protect the organism from future infection by the same organism. Nonlethal exposure to various pathogens is essential for a sh to produce antigens that create a competent immune response system. The most important sh pathogens are: Protozoan parasitesOrganisms from the phylum Protozoa. These are mainly aquatic, microscopic, single-celled animals that are parasitic in nature. A common freshwater disease called Ich is caused by the protozoan Ichthyophthirius multiliis. Microsporidian parasitesMicroscopic, fungal, spore-producing organisms Myxozoan parasitesMetazoan spore-forming parasites that have a two-host life cycle Parasitic crustaceansAnchor parasites that attach themselves to host organisms, causing lesions and fungal entry points. They can also live in the gills, mouths, and body cavities of affected sh. TapewormsSmall worms that live inside the intestinal body cavities and esh of sh and cause loss of appetite, inactivity, and weight loss. Are very unsightly and make sh unt for market. TrematodesEctoparasitic ukes that live on the bodies of sh, causing discomfort and entry points for bacterial and fungal infections. All warm-water sh are susceptible. Bacterial pathogensDisease-causing bacteria Viral pathogensDisease-causing viruses

Fish health begins with prevention of disease rather than treatment. Once disease breaks out in aquaculture systems, salvaging the sick sh is difcult. The goal of culturing sh, crustaceans, and shellsh is to reduce stress through wise management practices. Stress is any condition that causes an aquatic animal to be unable to maintain normal physiology because of factors beyond its natural tolerance level. Some common stressors include poor water quality, pollution, improper diet, animal waste, crowded population densities, pathogenic microorganisms, internal and external microscopic parasites, temperature, light, low dissolved oxygen levels, rough handling, and shipping. By conducting a general dissection of a sh, we may nd parasites or other evidence of disease.

Focus Question

How do aquaculturists identify sick sh that should be quarantined or treated?

Learning Objectives
Students will: Use internal and external examinations of sh specimens to identify diseased sh Understand the problems that sick sh create for aquaculture operations

Materials
A copy of the document Basic Methods of Fish Examination (III. Methods Fish Examination), included in this curriculum for each group of students A reference book or web site that shows the external and internal anatomy of a sh. Examples include http://www.klsnet.com/shanat.html and http://oridasheries.com/Fishes/anatomy.html Scalpels Dissecting scissors Latex gloves Small butcher knife Alcohol and a burner for sterilizing tools Iodophor or other disinfectants for cleaning the work surface Paper towels Glass microscope slides and coverslips Fixatives (formaldehyde or alcohol) Bacteriological media Containers for samples Pencils and pens for labeling Compound microscope with at least a low- and medium-power objective lens Fresh dead shcan be obtained from a supermarket or sh market, but be sure that the sh is whole and not gutted

Teaching Time
One class period

Procedure
1. Divide students into teams. 2. Provide fresh dead sh for dissection and examination and tools for the dissection and a copy of the document Basic Methods of Fish Examination (III. Methods Fish Examination), developed by Dr. Jerri Bartholomew. This guide has been adapted for use in high school biology labs but follows many of the same protocols that sheries scientists use to conduct sh necropsies. Note that standardization of protocols is commonly used in science to reduce variables that could alter the results of an investigation. 3. Have students follow the protocols outlined in the guide for examining and sampling their sh for diseases and parasites.

Diagnosing Fish Diseases Student Work Sheet

Questions Each sh will likely have different parasites or disease problems.

1. What parasites were found in your sh? Location and description will sufce. a. b. c.

2. What evidence of diseases did you nd (such as enlarged organs, frayed ns, discolored liver)? a. b. c.

3. How do you think scientists can address the problem of controlling sh diseases and parasites?

4. Why is it important to be able to diagnose and treat diseases of sh and other aquatic organisms?

Diagnosing Fish Diseases Teacher Answer Key

Questions
Each sh will likely have different parasites or disease problems.

1. What parasites were found in your sh? Location and description will sufce. a. b. c. Answers will vary

2. What evidence of diseases did you nd (such as enlarged organs, frayed ns, discolored liver)? a. b. c. Answers will vary. Although the sh used in this exercise may not have any diseases, students should be evaluated on their critical dissection and examination of the specimen and should not be marked down if they exaggerate the disease evidence they provide in answer to this question.

3. How do you think scientists can address the problem of controlling sh diseases and parasites? Development of medicines, chemical treatments to control parasites, biotech applications to develop vaccines, disrupting the life cycle of parasites.

4. Why is it important to be able to diagnose and treat diseases of sh and other aquatic organisms? Fish disease can have a number of adverse consequences: aquaculture facilities can be economically impacted, and diseases of wild sh can disrupt food webs and also have economic impacts if sport sh are affected. A few kinds of parasites can infect humans if a parasitized sh is eaten.

References and Further Reading


Fish Doc, Fish disease, diagnosis and treatments: http://www.shdoc.co.uk/disease/diseaseover.htm. Accessed July 2006. Government of Japan, Regional Fish Disease project: http://rfdp.seafdec.org.ph/. Accessed July 2006. Norway Fisheries: http://www.sheries.no/aquaculture/health_welfare/Aquaculture_health_welfare.htm. Accessed July 2006.