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Coronavirus is the zoonotic illness that literally shut the world down. But for aquarium owners, there is another illnesses we should be equally concerned about, too.

Big fish in a small tank tends to make for a disgusting water conditions

In this article, we’re unpacking everything you need to know about one major aquatic illness: fish tuberculosis. This disease is painful, costly, and can potentially ruin your aquarium—and your passion for fish—almost instantly. To avoid this, here’s everything you need to know about how to save yourself from fish TB.

Symptoms of Fish Tb

This poor Guppy has Dropsie, a symptom of fish TB.

What is Fish TB, anyway?

Fish TB is an illness caused by one of several Mycobacterium micro bacteriosis.

In your affected fish, it can appear as wasting, giving your fish a knife-backed appearance. They may lose scales, appear blistered, or generally listless. If you’re concerned about fish TB, your first step should be a qualified vet.

Alternatively, your fish can have large, bloated bellies. The Fish will appear Zombie-like, circling around the tank for no reason with mouth agape. The bacterial infection is so fierce in neurologically impairs the fish.

Is it time to set up a quarantine tank?

Fish Medicine can be complex prevention is better than the cure

If you do make the determination you do have sick fish, and you are a prepared aquarium keeper, your first thoughts will be to utilise that spare tank and set up a quarantine tank to prevent the spread.

Although quarantining new fish is a wise procedure to have in place, once you notice a fish is ill with Fish TB all of your other fish are now suspect. The whole tank must be treated, the infection is more widespread than the one fish showing symptoms..

And the treatment is: Anti-biotics. This medication is difficult to source in Australia for example because of the regulations against the overuse of anti-biotics. In Australia, it can be a right disaster to have a tank infection.

But wait, this fish disease gets worse

When fish TB makes the leap to humans, it can be pretty gory.

The symptoms are usually large, nodule-like sores, which can make their way from the site where the pathogen entered your body—usually a cut or sore—to your lymph nodes. Frighteningly, fish TB can also cause arthritis and bone inflammation.

But before we get labelled as alarmists, it’s worth pointing out that infection rates in humans is considered low. In 2018, the infection rate was under 0.003% of the U.S. population. That is the number reported for the specific diagnosis for only 1 year. When we look at handling fish over a lifespan and unreported cases, we would consider there is a significant risk for fish keepers we know developing fish TB.

Fish TB is NOT human TB fortunately. The bacteriosis which causes tuberculosis in humans is different and called mycobacterium tuberculosis.

If you are a fish enthusiast who’d rather be safe than sorry, here are some easy, simple tips to make sure you’re not one of the rare and unfortunate souls to end up with a fish TB infection this year.

How to avoid catching fish TB

Keep clean but do not mix in hand sanitizer with your aquarium water whatever you do

As the old adage goes: prevention is better than cure. If you want to avoid the pain, inflammation, and round of antibiotics that come with fish TB, learning how to prevent the illness is key.

  1. Keep your aquarium clean
    If your aquarium is a cesspool of bacteria and gunk, you’re doing it wrong. Keeping a clean aquarium is vital to the health and wellbeing of your fish. Also, ensure the aquarium is an adequate size for the fish you’re keeping. Too-small tanks can cause stress to your fish, which makes them more vulnerable to illness.
  2. Source your fish from a reputable retailer
    Bringing sick fish into your home aquarium setup is a recipe for disaster. Buy from trusted retailers, and be sure you understand the level of care and risk involved in the fish you’re choosing. Betta fish—the Siamese Fighter—and Gourami are more susceptible to fish TB than some other species.
  3. Don’t put your hands in the aquarium if you’ve got cuts or lesions
    The pathogens that cause fish TB need an entry into your body so they can settle in and spread. This entry point is your broken skin, so be sure you’re not scrubbing your tank with cuts or tears that give pathogens easy access.
  4. Wear gloves
    Thick gloves are a great way to protect your skin. Go for a sturdy, high quality pair that sits at a good length up your arm. Short gloves won’t offer the kind of flexibility you need whilst cleaning gravel and aquarium ornaments, and the exercise is for nothing if all the water floods into the glove.
  5. Wash your hands
    This may sound like a lot of work, but the advice we’ve got from the experts really comes down to one simple thing: wash your hands every time you handle your tank.
    Washing your hands breaks the shell of the pathogen, killing it. Expert advice we’ve received says:
    • Wash your hands with soap and water
    • Wash vigorously for 20 seconds
  6. Use hand sanitizer
    Here’s a tip we’ve all become quite familiar with in the age of the coronavirus. If washing your hands vigorously for 20 seconds with soap and water is the king—hand sanitizer gel is the queen. Make a habit of storing hand sanitizer gel in areas of your home you frequent often. Getting into the habit of sanitizing your hands makes you less likely to forget to practice good hand hygiene.
  7. But do not use hand sanitizer gels or liquids before handling fish, their food, their aquariums, or any equipment. This is extremely dangerous for your fish.


Good luck keeping your fish – and yourself – healthy!

Protecting yourself from fish TB can be the difference between a lifelong love of fish-keeping, and a short-lived interest that ended in pain and heartache. Although it is quite horrible, It is not caused by the same bacteriosis which causes human tuberculosis mycobacterium tuberculosis

By practicing excellent hand hygiene and keeping a quality aquarium, you’re on your way to a long and fulfilling hobby.

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