Wasting Disease/Fish TB

Wasting Disease/Fish TB

Wasting disease, or Fish TB, is a disease that affects certain freshwater ornamental fish. Those fish that are more susceptible include the Anabantides (bettas and gouramis), tetras, danios, and barbs. Knowing the symptoms could help save your entire tank if caught early enough.

The culprit behind this sickness is mycobacterium (Mycobacterium marinum or Mycobacterium fortuitum), a type of acid-fast bacteria that is found in infected fish. Fish can get infected by cannibalising dead infected fish or by detritus left by infected fish.

A big problem with diagnosing the disease is that the symptoms for Wasting disease are some of the same symptoms that present for other illnesses. There are also those occasions when a fish will just die for no apparent outward discernable reason. The disease usually progresses very slowly and is very contagious. It is possible to lose an entire aquarium to this disease. The most common symptoms include the following:

*lack of appetite
*emaciated body/anemia
*swollen belly - belly may look almost transparent
*pop-eye or bulging eyes
*color loss
*fin rot
*skin lesions
*bent spine or deformed skeleton

The only true way to diagnose the disease is through a necropsy. There will be nodules on the internal organs of the infected fish. These nodules are like the lesions that can appear on the skin of the infected fish.

There are treatments that some websites or fish health books might recommend which include heavy doses of antibiotics (erythromycin, kanamycin, amoxicillin, keflex to name a few). The disease is very resistant to antibiotics. Many experts recommend euthanasia as the disease is ultimately fatal, and treating the fish with antibiotics will just prolong suffering and possibly spread the disease.

If you think that you have an infected fish, you should take some caution when handeling the fish, the implements that you use on the aquarium, cleaning tools, etc. Humans can get a rash, sometimes known as fish handlers disease. Some cases are so severe that they may require multiple treatments from a physician. People who are immunocompromised should really be carful in handling anything involved with this disease.

The bacteria that causes Wasting disease is extremely resistant to disinfectants. Filter material, gravel, and substrate that are in the tank that housed the infected fish should be thrown away. Decorations and aquariums should be soaked and cleaned with a strong bleach solution. Ethyl alcohol, Lysol, and sodium chlorite can also kill the bacterium, but it requires a longer period of time. It is best to not use the cleaned materials for a while after cleaning. Everything should be rinsed multiple times, and those materials that can be thrown away, should be thrown away.

My own battle with what I believe was Wasting disease ended in utter failure. I lost three thriving bettas who were all in separate tanks. One of my bettas first had what looked like a fungal infection. Then she had pop eye. After treating both of those, she developed a bent spine. After that, she slowly grew thinner, and then stopped eating all together. It was then that I decided to euthanisize her, but not before I had unwittingly infected my other two tanks by using the same gravel vac. I did not send my fish off to a lab for a necropsy (that is very expensive), but I pretty much know that she had Wasting disease from her series of symptoms.

I will include some pictures of my betta so that they can be used for reference. My hope is that this will help in identifying this awful disease, and may in turn help others so that they won't lose all of their aqua babies.

I found the information for this article from various web sites (there are a lot of them, and some have incorrect information), and from a few reference books (Fundamentals of Ornamental Fish Health - edited by Helen Roberts, and The Manual of Fish Health by Dr. C. Andrews, Adrian Exell, and Dr. N. Carrington).

Please see the pictures below of my betta, Gracie, during her battle with what I believe to be Wasting disease/Fish TB.
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Rose of Sharon
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  • HupGupp
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Great info, very well explained.
  • AIvinn
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The article was very specific and informative. Sharon did a good job!
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