Experimenting with in-tank antibiotic treatments for Brown Jelly Disease

BRS
Brown Jelly Disease (BJD) is an issue many reefers have run into. Like most coral diseases, the pathogen causing BJD has not been conclusively determined. Here I will share some observations and test results supporting the idea that its caused by a bacterial pathogen, and so may be treatable with antibiotics.

I'm sure this is not the first time someone's tried antibiotics against BJD, but I havent previously come across a DNA based study of the results. This is a preliminary investigation based on observations made on my home tanks spanning a few months. It is not conclusive, and is not intended to put the discussion to rest; far from it. It's just another piece of the puzzle as we figure out how to deal with this disease.

Overall my finding suggest that:
  • Infection with a specific bacterium in the genus Arcobacter contributes to BJD.
  • This infection can be safely treated in the aquarium with low doses of a commonly used aquarium antibiotic.
  • This treatment doesn't appear to damage the microbial community, but may actually improve it.
Here is the story, including the single case study so far of a tank treated in this way.

A Specific Bacterium Associated with Brown Jelly Disease
Over the last 6 months I've seen several cases where newly imported Euphyllia developed Brown Jelly Disease shortly after I received them. It had all the signs of an infectious disease. A newly imported colony would dissolve in BJD, and several other frags Euphyllia in the tank would also develop BJD if I didn't remove the affected corals quickly enough.

These corals aren't cheap, so my instinct was initially to try to save them (with no success) rather than conduct experiments. But after losing a few Euphyllia from different orders and suppliers my curiosity got the better of me. So the next two corals that developed early signs of BJD (a Hammer Coral E. ancora, and a Grape Coral E. cristata), I let it develop. Once they were in full-blown BJD, I sacrificed and sampled them.

Both of these samples were dominated by a single type, an unclassified bacterium in the genus Arcobacter. To clarify what I mean by that: this is a type that has been seen before, it's a perfect match to a sequence record in public DNA sequence databases. But, like so many microbes found in environmental samples, the species has not been formally described and named.

BJD pies.jpg


Identifying it to the genus can be pretty useful, though. The genus Arcobacter includes several known pathogens of humans and other animals, including A. butzleri, which is a food-borne pathogen that presents a serious risk to human health. When you sequence samples of two different diseased corals, and find them both dominated by a genus known to contain pathogens, it's worth noting.

It also gives us a good guess at the likely physical description and lifestyle. These are rod-shaped to helical, non-spore forming, and swim in a corkscrew motion using their single flagellum. These occur in association with animals, and also free living in waste water, seawater, and other aquatic habitats.

This information can also be useful in developing treatment strategies, since the members of a Bacterial genus often share characteristic sensitivities to the same antibiotics. We'll get to that.

Infecting a Euphyllia Garden with BJD
Who would intentionally do such a thing?? Not me.

What happened was this. I continued to buy Euphyllia, a fraction of them continued to develop BJD, and I was experimenting with short antibiotic dips. (This approach never yielded much success for me, but there is more work to be done on that front. )

Then one batch of especially nice corals started to BJD within 24 hours after arrival, and I panicked. I decided my Frag Tank must have the BJD pathogen, and I needed to get them out of it. I triaged the new corals, sacrificing the worst cases and transferring a couple that I thought were clean into a different tank... my Euphyllia Display Tank.

This was not my smartest move ever. They were so pretty, I acted irrationally :(

Next thing you know, both of the new Euphyllia and 4 of my existing Euphyllia in the tank were showing early signs of stress. They all showed oddly deflated tentacles that were not fully extended, and I could the beginnings of some of the characteristic Brown Jelly stuff on the two new corals. I removed these plaguebearers, pretty though they were, from the tank.

So I sampled the water at this point... after introducing the new corals, at the earliest signs of stress. What I found: exactly the same bug (Acrobacter sp., sv1103) at unusually high levels. I found 92 sequences matching this perfectly, representing >1% of the total community. (These were never found in biofilm samples, this analysis is based only on water samples)
1607381633378.png

Treating BJD with antibiotics, in the aquarium
What to do? I could remove all the Euphyllia and try a dip, but I hadn't been having much success with dips. So I looked at the tank and realized, the only corals I cared about in this tank were the Euphyllia. Fish are easy to move to another tank if something goes wrong, I have plenty of tanks running with room for a fish or two.

So I decided to take the plunge and treat my whole tank with the antibiotic. Although it's often repeated on the internet that adding antibiotics to your tank will kill the good bacteria, I hadn't seen any evidence of that.

Meanwhile I had evidence an Arcobacter species was associated with BJD, published reports of the antibiotic sensitivity of these bugs, and a tank full of Euphyllia on the verge of succumbing to BJD. So I dosed the tank.

I chose Ciprofloxacin because it is effective at the lowest doses, reasoning that in this way, I could minimize collateral damage. I based this decision on this study because it had a nice comparison of dosage trials for a wide range of antibiotic; I saw several other studies that also supported the use of Ciprofloxacin to treat Arcobacter infections.

I used Ciprofloxacin at 0.125 mg / L. To achieve this I dissolved a 500 mg pill in 50 ml of RODI water, producing a 10 mg / ml solution (which I subsequently stored in the fridge). The aquarium system has 70 gal volume altogether (~265 L), so I added 3.3 ml of this solution to achieve 0.125 mg / L. I repeated this dose every 2 days for 3 doses altogether.

Within 24 hours of the first dose, all of the affected corals showed signs of improvement. Their tentacles inflated again, although the remained not full extended. Within 48 hours they were fully extended and looked perfectly healthy again.

A few days after the final dose, I sampled the aquarium again. Like samples taken from the same aquarium a month prior to introducing the diseased Euphyllia, Arcobacter sp. (sv1103) was again not detected. Introducing the diseased animals introduced the bacterium, and the antibiotic treatment appears to have knocked their populations down substantially.
1607384512881.png

I should emphasize that since there are no controls, or photographs, for the effects of this treatment on the corals it's entirely possible they simply got better on their own. We can have a little more confidence in the effects of the treatment on the Arcobacter themselves, though. Here we have a measurement of the effect, although not replicated in multiple tanks.

In a future experiment I will address both issues -- this was an experimental trial born of desperation.

But doesn't that kill the good bacteria too?
This is of course a reasonable concern. There's a wide range of views on how to achieve the right microbial community, and how much the various parts of the community even matter. But I think few experienced reefers would say the bacterial community doesnt matter at all. So it makes sense to be cautious about adding antibiotics to the tank and potentially killing off whatever parts of the community you think are important.

But of course the dose makes the poison, and remember that I chose this antibiotic specifically because it was effective against this genus at the lowest dosage of any antibiotics tested.

The system has a moderate bioload with 4 fish in a 40 gallon DT with 30 gallons of sump volume, along with a bunch of corals. There is no algal refugium or macroalgae. So if the nitrifying community were to die, I would expect to see an explosion in nutrients and algal growth. This didnt happen. (I confess, I didnt measure nutrients this time around. I base this conclusion on the lack of algal growth that would be fueled by a rise in nutrients)

More directly, I compared the aquarium microbiome before and after the treatment. Here's a table summarizing the major stats we look at in comparing aquarium microbial communities:
T-1 month
(before BJD)
T+1 day
(during BJD)
T+10 days
(after treatment)
Diversity Score (percentile)552 (91st)438 (69th)532 (87th)
Balance Score (percentile)0.5 (76th)0.18 (50th)0.51 (83rd)
Ammonia-oxidizing microbes (%)Present (5.5%)Present (2.3%)Present (0.9%)
Nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (%)Present (0.08%)Not detectedPresent (0.05%)

Did the treatment damage the microbial community? Not at all. If it had any effect at all, it was to restore the community to its previous state by selectively knocking out a few susceptible bacteria.

If all a person cares about is the nitrifying community, that was not removed. There was a slight decrease in AOM while NOB were restored from undetectable to a more typical level.

If a person is interested in the microbial functions of the community more broadly, the summary statistics of Diversity and Balance scores were also improved by the treatment rather than harmed. The introduction of diseased corals lowered both scores, and the antibiotic treatment increased both scores.

This point about the broader microbial community can be illustrated most easily with a barplot showing the community over time. In these plots, each color represents a different microbial family.

cipro community barplot.jpg

The figure shows that the microbial community was fairly typical before BJD, became atypical during BJD, and was restored to something like its previous state following the antibiotic treatment.

A skeptical reader may point out that since there are no replicates here, we can't be confident attributing the changes to the treatment. It could be coincidence. Perhaps the corals recovered on their own and the microbial community resumed its previous structure after a transient disturbance caused by adding diseased corals. Based on my previous efforts to save Euphyllia with BJD I find this a little unlikely, but certainly not impossible.

Ultimately that objection would be correct and in the future I will do a properly replicated experiment to test this. What I've shown here is a just hypothesis with some preliminary evidence supporting it.

How Common is this Bacterium in Saltwater Aquaria?
In a set of 148 aquariums I've sampled (this is not the entire database, its the "high quality" database made up of normal, healthy tanks with good sequencing coverage), Arcobacter sp. sv1103 is not detectable in a majority of tanks.
1607389031773.png

We can express this same idea a few different ways. For the majority oftanks, this sequence was not detected at all (80%). For nearly all tanks (95%), this bacterium was absent or extremely rare (<0.00006%).

This context makes the comparison with my BJD infected tank even more stark. That 1.2% is huge in comparison with the typical levels observed across a large number of aquaria.


Summary

Based on what I've reported here, I hypothesize that infections with Arcobacter sp. (sv 1103) contribute to Brown Jelly Disease in LPS corals, and that these infections can be safely and effectively treated in the aquarium with low doses of Ciprofloxacin. Depending on the results of further tests, this could be a useful tool for the hobbyist community in the fight against BJD.

Important disclaimer: if anyone reading this feels inspired to treat their own tank, I specifically take no responsibility for the results. This is an experimental treatment, and if you run experiments on your own tank you take all the responsibility for the results.

But I know some of you, like me, enjoy running experiments on your own tanks. Many of us have a bottle of Cipro sitting around. And anybody who keeps Euphyllia is likely to encounter BJD at some point. Anybody want to test this? I'll throw in the microbiome testing before and after if so...

Thanks for reading and may your tanks stay free of Brown Jelly!


[unless you're the kind of person inclined to run experiments with antibiotics on your tanks, so you can help me duplicate this :) ]
 
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Coralqueendom

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I think you need to dose 43ml. Based on your 1mg / ml concentrate using 2 500 mg tabs in 1000 ml. 90 gallons is 340L. 0.125 mg / L means need to dose about 42.5 mg to treat tank or 42.5 ml per your solution.
i have 500 mg pills and 100 gallons total water volume, if i disolve two pills in a liter of RODI what is my daily dose and do you do a water change between each treatment?
 

KrisReef

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@Coralqueendom (somebody else check my math)

500mg + 500mg/1000 l = 1mg/ml
for 100 gallons ~=380 liters
380 liters x 0.125 mg/l =47.5 mg

47.5 mg x 1mg/ml = 47.5ml of your 1 liter soln with (2 x 500mg cipro)

Your 1 liter bottle can treat your tank about 20 + times.
 

Anthony Scholfield

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I just got finished doing a 7’x3’x1.25’ frag tank for a bubble coral that had bjd and a few other lps starting to show signs of it. Plus I has some rfa and other nems from a tank buy out that were sickly.

I did 500mg tablet every day for 7 days. No ill affects on anything in the tank. Zoas, nems, sps, shrooms, basically everything is is in there. Macros in sump are fine and so is the pod population. Fish are also good. Bubble looks 100% better, minus the heads that died before treatment and the nems look great now.

I am so glad @AquaBiomics put this out there. I now know I am not alone and crazy, as I have been using cipro for corals for years. Just never in a full blown reef. (The frag tank is basically a reef at this point lol) Always in a qt previously, but it has saved a many of sps and lps I have taken in from neglected tanks or bad/late shipments at the lfs.
I noticed you did the treatment for 7 days straight. How did your dosage compare to Eli’s original dosage. I see you used a 500mg tab but how much volume of water did you have. It seems your dosage was stronger, more often and longer without ill effects.

I did my first dose last night and followed Eli’s original dosing instructions. I’m more trying this for the nems i have in the tank. I had a gig get a bacterial infection. I removed it and treated it with cipro in its own tank. The other nems though have been looking a bit sick too. Im hoping this helps as i would rather not remove all the others i have.

I was thinking a daily dose for the week may be better for the nems. Similiar to treating when in a HT tank but at a lower dose I guess. Any thoughts?
 

beesnreefs

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Thanks for this great writeup, @AquaBiomics - trying this as well. Just put first dose in the tank.

I pulled about 100 mL of tank water before dosing in case you still want to run before and after tests. Sample is in the freezer. Let me know.

Fingers crossed this works! Lost 5 torches in the last month. So heartbreaking.
 

swee10

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Is there a way to order Cipro without needing a script from a vet.
It may be available other places but here is one.
 

KrisReef

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This seems to have solved my jelliless polyp dissolution. I thought my one of my fish had gone rogue and was eating lps. They did not show classic brown jelly at any time. The polyps appeared to be being eaten with chunks of flesh falling off.

I ordered from CHEWY and the 30 x 500 mg arrived in two days. Followed the original 0.125mg/liter and treated ever other day at night the entire display system. No losses except for the disease symptoms. No more torch dissolving.

Thanks
 

Anthony Scholfield

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I finished a full week treatment this last week. I wanted to try this for my anemones as one had a bacterial infection that was removed but the others were looking a bit sick as well. Taking them all out to treat would be a pain and i thought i would give this a try first.

I decided to treat everyday for a week at the original prescribed amount. The first two days i treated at lights out but the last 5 days i had to treat a couple hours before lights out because of my schedule. Not sure if this affected much.

I removed carbon and GFO. I ran my skimmer but removed the collection cup. I also treated my other two systems in this way because I’m sharing tools and in an out of the tanks so water ends up getting mixed. Thought it the best way to be complete.

I did not notice any negative effect on the living things. Fish good, coral good, inverts good, macros good, and pods good. I did notice a rise in PO4. I did loose a couple different heads from different coral but those were already in bad shape and don’t believe the treatment caused this but only confirmed there sickness.

I did notice one of my BTAs that spent most days looking deflated now stays inflated durning the day. The others, two gigs and a mag I’m not quite sure about yet. Part of me thinks it was helpful but the other isn’t totally sure yet. I’m still monitoring everything.

Not sure whats up with @AquaBiomics hope things are okay. Wanted to try the bacteria testing but no response here or from his website.

@Eagle_Steve still curious about my questions above on your quoted post?

I think this is a useful tool and hope others report their findings here. The bacteria side of things is super interesting and we need more testing done.
 

beesnreefs

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I finished a full week treatment this last week. I wanted to try this for my anemones as one had a bacterial infection that was removed but the others were looking a bit sick as well. Taking them all out to treat would be a pain and i thought i would give this a try first.

I decided to treat everyday for a week at the original prescribed amount. The first two days i treated at lights out but the last 5 days i had to treat a couple hours before lights out because of my schedule. Not sure if this affected much.

I removed carbon and GFO. I ran my skimmer but removed the collection cup. I also treated my other two systems in this way because I’m sharing tools and in an out of the tanks so water ends up getting mixed. Thought it the best way to be complete.

I did not notice any negative effect on the living things. Fish good, coral good, inverts good, macros good, and pods good. I did notice a rise in PO4. I did loose a couple different heads from different coral but those were already in bad shape and don’t believe the treatment caused this but only confirmed there sickness.

I did notice one of my BTAs that spent most days looking deflated now stays inflated durning the day. The others, two gigs and a mag I’m not quite sure about yet. Part of me thinks it was helpful but the other isn’t totally sure yet. I’m still monitoring everything.

Not sure whats up with @AquaBiomics hope things are okay. Wanted to try the bacteria testing but no response here or from his website.

@Eagle_Steve still curious about my questions above on your quoted post?

I think this is a useful tool and hope others report their findings here. The bacteria side of things is super interesting and we need more testing done.
Similar experience to what you and @KrisReef had.

Was able to get a vet friend to call in a script for ciprofloxacin for me on Sunday, May 2nd. I had ordered from Chewy but was worried waiting 2 more days would have been disasterous. Had already lost 4 torches and two were starting to go to pot (a single head green and a 3-head indo gold variant).

Also reached out to @AquaBiomics about the pre-and-post testing but have not heard back yet. Still, I took about 75 mL of water out of the display and tossed in the freezer before applying the first treatment.

Other than a UV, I do not run any filtration beyond the biological - no skimmer, carbon, etc.

Calculated water volume at 60 gallons (approximately) so, making a 10 mg/mL and using his dosing of 0.125 mg/L I did 28 mg (2.8 mL) of cipro directly into the display mid-day on May 2nd. I did not turn lights off or do anything different.

Monday the green torch was about 50% melted away - no sign of "jelly", just literally melting away from the skeleton. When I started treatment on Sunday it was probably 20% melted away so I did not expect it to survive anyway.

The 3-head indo, it's head in the front was about 50% melted away when I started treatment on May 2nd. The next day it had totally bailed.

However.....

No other euphyllia showed any signs of distress on Monday. And, the other two heads on the indo were inflated more than they had been in a week.

I did a second treatment on Tuesday and a third treatment on Thursday. Then, on Saturday, just before my weekly water change I pulled another 75 mL of water from the display and tossed it in the freezer.

If Eli from AquaBiomics does end up wanting to do a pre-and-post test on my system I've got the samples frozen and ready to go!

My final takeaways:
  • It's been 4 days since the final treatment and 1 week since the last torch issue. Prior to starting cipro, I was seeing torches begin to melt every 2-3 days. Sitting here typing this and looking at my tank, all my euphyllia have never looked better! I am certain the treatment worked.
  • I know Eli titled this thread as being about "Brown Jelly" but, like others, I never saw jelly. Rather, one day the torches looked great, the next day they were super retracted, deflated, and just started "melting away" within about 24 hours. This seems to have stopped.
  • No other corals or inverts seemed to have suffered from this. All my snails, starfish, crabs, corals, even berghia nudibranchs all seem absolutely fine.
  • All fish seemed unaffected as well.
In the end, I lost some of my most favorite corals but, believing this treatment worked, have every intention of replacing them.

My wife suggested I use the "extra" cipro as a dip for new euhphyllia before adding them to the tank. I think I'm going to do that!
 

MrKlumZ

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I had my entire collection of high end torches and hammers wiped out last year including some of my lps as well. Wish this information was available at that time. Searched everywhere and could not find a solution. I dipped all my euphyllia daily in a peroxide dip and iodine, chemiclean, and amino acid dip. It prolonged the life of my euphyllia but still ended in mass death.

thank you so much for this write up. Definitely good to know a way to combat this disease. Almost dropped out of this hobby last year but decided to do a reboot again this year.
 
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KrisReef

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thank you for your reply!!
You are welcome.

I never did any water changes following treatment(s). This dose is so low, and from my understanding the antibiotic degrades very quickly in light, so I never saw any reason to change water as a result of chemicals added during these treatments.

I am planning a 25% change, just because. I don't do regular water changes but I want to vacuum up the areas where dirt is accumulating over the past year or two in my system. :)
 

LRT

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Similar experience to what you and @KrisReef had.

Was able to get a vet friend to call in a script for ciprofloxacin for me on Sunday, May 2nd. I had ordered from Chewy but was worried waiting 2 more days would have been disasterous. Had already lost 4 torches and two were starting to go to pot (a single head green and a 3-head indo gold variant).

Also reached out to @AquaBiomics about the pre-and-post testing but have not heard back yet. Still, I took about 75 mL of water out of the display and tossed in the freezer before applying the first treatment.

Other than a UV, I do not run any filtration beyond the biological - no skimmer, carbon, etc.

Calculated water volume at 60 gallons (approximately) so, making a 10 mg/mL and using his dosing of 0.125 mg/L I did 28 mg (2.8 mL) of cipro directly into the display mid-day on May 2nd. I did not turn lights off or do anything different.

Monday the green torch was about 50% melted away - no sign of "jelly", just literally melting away from the skeleton. When I started treatment on Sunday it was probably 20% melted away so I did not expect it to survive anyway.

The 3-head indo, it's head in the front was about 50% melted away when I started treatment on May 2nd. The next day it had totally bailed.

However.....

No other euphyllia showed any signs of distress on Monday. And, the other two heads on the indo were inflated more than they had been in a week.

I did a second treatment on Tuesday and a third treatment on Thursday. Then, on Saturday, just before my weekly water change I pulled another 75 mL of water from the display and tossed it in the freezer.

If Eli from AquaBiomics does end up wanting to do a pre-and-post test on my system I've got the samples frozen and ready to go!

My final takeaways:
  • It's been 4 days since the final treatment and 1 week since the last torch issue. Prior to starting cipro, I was seeing torches begin to melt every 2-3 days. Sitting here typing this and looking at my tank, all my euphyllia have never looked better! I am certain the treatment worked.
  • I know Eli titled this thread as being about "Brown Jelly" but, like others, I never saw jelly. Rather, one day the torches looked great, the next day they were super retracted, deflated, and just started "melting away" within about 24 hours. This seems to have stopped.
  • No other corals or inverts seemed to have suffered from this. All my snails, starfish, crabs, corals, even berghia nudibranchs all seem absolutely fine.
  • All fish seemed unaffected as well.
In the end, I lost some of my most favorite corals but, believing this treatment worked, have every intention of replacing them.

My wife suggested I use the "extra" cipro as a dip for new euhphyllia before adding them to the tank. I think I'm going to do that!
Hopefully @AquaBiomics gets alot more data in and is able to identify more pathogens.
Cipro is a wide treating antibiotic and not only successful with BJD.
I had a mushroom with full on tissue necrosis. Falling apart just handling it.
Gave a few 2 hr dips at 125mg/half gallon system every other night and mushroom came back and never better really.
:D
20210509_134309.jpg
 

135zman

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Could someone confirm my dosage for a 160 total gallon system? I’m seeing different dissolving techniques to get the concentrated solution with some weaker than others. Based on p1 original post of dissolving one 500 mg pill in 50ml of RODI, is my dosage 7.57ml?

160 gallons = 606 liters x .125 medication rate = 75.75 ml / 10 = 7.57ml dose amount

Thank you for checking by math since the original post was based on only dissolving one 500 mg pill in 50ml water creating 10mg/ml concentrate versus much more diluted medicated solution of two 500 mg in 1 liter of water (1000ml) creating 1mg/ml concentrate.
 

beesnreefs

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Could someone confirm my dosage for a 160 total gallon system? I’m seeing different dissolving techniques to get the concentrated solution with some weaker than others. Based on p1 original post of dissolving one 500 mg pill in 50ml of RODI, is my dosage 7.57ml?

160 gallons = 606 liters x .125 medication rate = 75.75 ml / 10 = 7.57ml dose amount

Thank you for checking by math since the original post was based on only dissolving one 500 mg pill in 50ml water creating 10mg/ml concentrate versus much more diluted medicated solution of two 500 mg in 1 liter of water (1000ml) creating 1mg/ml concentrate.
Your math looks right to me!
 

reefinlikeAgirl

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I’m having an outback of bjd right now. Ciprofloxacin will be here tomorrow morning and I’m dosing the tank! I’ll take a sample in the morning. Where do I send it?
 

mfollen

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Fantastic read.

Has anyone used both Chemiclean and cipro at the same time? If so, any negative effects?
 
BRS

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