Ich eradication vs. Ich management

Humblefish

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Ich eradication vs. Ich management

The purpose of this article is to discuss the pros & cons of ich eradication and ich management, and present the best methods for implementing each.

Ich eradication - Simply put, this method means doing everything possible to keep ich out of your tank. That can be accomplished by establishing & maintaining a strict quarantine (QT) protocol as outlined here: How to Quarantine. It is very important to QT each & every fish, including your very first one, if you wish to avoid ich.

Why practice ich eradication? Once introduced by an infected specimen, and so long as there are always fish to feed on, ich can survive in your tank almost indefinitely. The only way to get it out is to starve it out by going fallow (fishless) for 76 days. The parasites continuously attack (feed on) fish, which does damage and can even kill them. I personally chose ich eradication, because I got tired of “ich management” being a part of my aquarium husbandry. There’s enough to do in a reef aquarium on a daily basis without adding “battle fish parasites” to the list.

The cons of ich eradication are somewhat obvious. In addition to having to setup & maintain a QT, not being able to add your newly purchased fish directly to the display tank (DT) can be a major buzz kill. QT does zap some of the “thrill” out of the hobby.

What if I already have ich in my tank? There is no easy way of dealing with this. You have to catch all of your fish, and QT/treat using copper, Chloroquine phosphate, tank transfer method or hyposalinity. More detailed information on all the aforementioned treatment options can be found here: Treatment Options Index.

The DT itself must be left fallow (fishless) for 76 days to starve out any remaining parasites. Corals/inverts cannot host, so they can be left in the DT during the fallow period. You must be wary of cross contamination during the fallow period, avoiding anything wet (including hands) when going from QT to DT (or vice versa). Aerosol transmission is another concern, so it’s best to house your QT at least 10 feet away from the DT. More info on that here: Aerosol transmission.

Remember there is no “reef safe” ich treatment that actually works! Those may (or may not) help fish with their symptoms; but no tea tree oil from India or garlic extract or any other herbal/natural “medication” will completely eradicate ich from a tank. The day someone does finally develop an effective “reef safe” treatment, we are all going to hear about it, and the inventor will become a millionaire. ;)

Ich management - This method involves just managing the presence of the disease, instead of eradicating it. You know you have ich in your tank or are willing to risk it by forgoing QT. Despite how strongly I advocate ich eradication these days, I employed ich management for almost 30 years. I found the key to success was keeping the overall number of parasites down, while simultaneously boosting the fishes’ immune systems to deal with the parasites that survived. Some ways to accomplish this include:
  • Utilizing the biggest UV sterilizer you can fit/afford. While a UV will probably never “zap” all of the free swimmers (theronts), it will keep their numbers down so the fish can better cope with the ones remaining. A diatom filter can also be used to remove free swimmers.
  • Boost your fishes’ immune systems through proper nutrition. This means feeding a wide range of live & frozen nutritious foods, not just flake & pellets. Feed nori, as that is loaded with vitamins. Also, soak fish food in vitamin supplements such as Selcon, Zoecon and Vita-Chem to further enhance health. Omega 3 & 6 fish oils are great (and cheap) soaking alternatives.
  • Stay on top of your aquarium husbandry! Maintain pristine water conditions, stable parameters and avoid fish that are likely to fight. Poor water quality, fluctuating parameters and aggression from other fish may “stress” a fish out, lower his immune system and make him more susceptible to parasitic infestation.
  • Choose your fish wisely. Avoid “ich magnets” i.e. fish with thin mucous coats such as tangs. Clownfish, anthias, wrasses and even mandarins are better choices as those have thick slime coats protecting their skin from attacking parasites. Also, only buy from reputable sources, and don’t buy fish that look diseased/damaged, won’t eat or who share water with diseased fish.
  • No discussion of “ich management” can be had without mentioning garlic. This topic is often debated, and I honestly don’t know whether or not soaking garlic in fish food helps with ich. I have seen it work as an appetite stimulant, so that might help right there. However, I’m less confident in its ability to boost a fish’s immune system. Another theory is that garlic leaches back out of a fish’s pores, and that makes the fish an undesirable host for parasites. While there is no scientific evidence supporting anything beneficial, studies have been done linking long-term garlic use with liver damage in fish. Therefore, I use garlic sparingly.
A fine example of utilizing proper nutrition to keep the bugs away is Paul Baldassano’s (aka Paul B) over 40 year old, 100 gallon aquarium. Paul keeps his fish in “breeding condition” by feeding live foods (ex. blackworms) and soaking food in Omega-3 fish oil. Most of his livestock live to be a ripe old age and some of his fish spawn on a regular basis. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Paul and highly recommend this article written by him: Reefkeeping Magazine - Paul Baldassano?s Reef - 40 Years in the Making.

Pros & cons - One upside of practicing ich management is obvious: not having to QT. I get it; I really do. It’s exciting to make the rounds of the local fish shops, finding that “perfect fish” and then adding him to your DT. After all, having fun is what a hobby is supposed to be all about. What’s fun about adding a fish to a bare bottom QT with PVC elbows?

However, the downsides are numerous. All it takes is one “stressor event” to undo years of ich management. By stressor event, I mean something like a prolonged power loss, heater sticks, fish fighting, etc., anything that stresses a fish out and lowers his immune system. Sometimes ich capitalizes on these events by overwhelming a fish’s immune system, and fish start dying. Also, secondary bacterial infections are common in fish afflicted with ich, due to their already compromised immune system. All it takes is a cut or an open wound left by an ich trophont. These bacterial diseases sometimes prove to be far deadlier than ich itself, especially if caused by a gram negative bacterium.

Ich management is more of a “learn as you go” process, which is why experienced hobbyists often fare better than newbies. For me, ich management just got to be too stressful. The stress of seeing the spots, wondering if today was going to be the day it finally caught up with me, or if the fish that just died was a result of ich or something else. Losing too many fish under “mysterious” circumstances is what finally led me to choose ich eradication.
 
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kschweer

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Great write up! Can't wait to see more.
 

Sully

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Nowadays most fish “leave my tank” only once they outgrow it and need to be rehomed. :wink:
Great write up but your last line leaves a little to be questioned. Why would you provide such great insight only to leave the inexperienced with the idea that it's ok to put a species into a tank to small to just "rehome it" at a later time once it outgrows it's current home? Again, I liked your write-up but the last line seems like it could create a false perception to new SW aquarists.
 
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Humblefish

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Great write up but your last line leaves a little to be questioned. Why would you provide such great insight only to leave the inexperienced with the idea that it's ok to put a species into a tank to small to just "rehome it" at a later time once it outgrows it's current home? Again, I liked your write-up but the last line seems like it could create a false perception to new SW aquarists.
You make an excellent point. I'm going to remove that part. While my tank is larger than the "minimum tank size" for most of the fish I have rehomed, I felt they would be happier in an even larger tank, and I'm lucky to have friends nearby that appreciate extremely healthy, show-sized fish. But I don't want to lead new SW aquarists astray by thinking it's OK to buy fish that will outgrow their aquarium.
 

revhtree

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Great write up but your last line leaves a little to be questioned. Why would you provide such great insight only to leave the inexperienced with the idea that it's ok to put a species into a tank to small to just "rehome it" at a later time once it outgrows it's current home? Again, I liked your write-up but the last line seems like it could create a false perception to new SW aquarists.
I don't have an issue with that statement at all. To me it show responsibility. Unless you have a multiple thousand gallon sized tank, several types of fish, if they live long enough will outgrow most all of our aquariums. That's my opinion. :)
 
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Humblefish

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I don't have an issue with that statement at all. To me it show responsibility. Unless you have a multiple thousand gallon sized tank, several types of fish, if they live long enough will outgrow most all of our aquariums. That's my opinion. :)
For me personally, it's a judgement call. For example, I recently rehomed a foxface... even though my 150 gal is larger than the 125 gal "minimum tank size". But the foxface had grown to over 7", and just looked uncomfortable in my tank. I have a friend with a 210 gal who shares my beliefs about QT (very important to me when it comes to rehoming), so I made the 2 hr drive to bring him the fish.

I also will not hesitate to choose between two fish that will not stop fighting and rehome one of them. It just takes patience to find the right person with the right tank and a really good fish trap.
:xd:
 

Boreas

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Nice write up. Just one thing, managing white spot does not mean you don't have to QT, there are a host of much nastier diseases out there there that can't be managed like white spot and will kill your fish without a way to manage it. Plus then the different strains of white spot that your resident fish does not have immunity to that can be introduced to the tank and result in another infection. So always qt, whether you want to eradicate white spot or just manage it.
 
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Great write up!
 

Paul B

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Nice write up and I agree with most of it. While I do not have to quarantine, the majority of people will have to, especially Noobs as I know many of them will not be able to keep their fish in such shape to always be immune to ich. Your pros and cons is also right on. You did leave out one "con" to quarantining but I don't want to screw up your thread with my controversial theories. I am writing a book and one of the chapters is on this. You may find this interesting as it goes along with this thread. Keep up the good work.

Fish Health Through Slime
 
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revhtree

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Nice write up and I agree with most of it. While I do not have to quarantine, the majority of people will have to, especially Noobs as I know many of them will not be able to keep their fish in such shape to always be immune to ich. Your pros and cons is also right on. You did leave out one "con" to quarantining but I don't want to screw up your thread with my controversial theories. I am writing a book and one of the chapters is on this. You may find this interesting as it goes along with this thread. Keep up the good work.

Fish Health Through Slime
Paul B that was a great article!
 
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Humblefish

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@Boreas While I personally do (and advocate) QT each & every fish, I realize not everyone is going to heed that advice. So I try to just present all the information, the pros & cons to everything, so readers can choose for themselves which path they wish to take. But you make an excellent point... I will be sure to mention the risk of encountering diseases such as brook & velvet in my upcoming "How to Quarantine" article.

@Orion120 I will be writing a sticky entitled "Disease transmission via aerosol" in the near future, but what I can offer at this time is an abstract from this study: Aerosol dispersal of the fish pathogen, Amyloodinium ocellatum

Amyloodinium ocellatum, a frequently encountered parasite in marine aquaculture, was investigated to determine if infective dinospore stages could be transported in aerosol droplets. We used an in vivo model incorporating static and dynamic airflow systems and found dinospores of A. ocellatum could travel in aerosol droplets (up to 440 mm in a static system and up to 3 m in a dynamic one). This is the first record of this transmission pathway for a marine protozoan parasite. It is possible that other marine protozoans can transfer via the aerobiological pathway. Management of A. ocellatum infections in aquaculture facilities could be affected, particularly where tanks and ponds are situated in close proximity.
The focus of this study was velvet (Amyloodinium); but since dinospores are similar in purpose to ich theronts, I believe the same applies to them as well.

@Paul B LOVE the article, Paul! I would like to read more. As you know, I'm a big fan of yours. Someday, when space permits, I want to setup a "Paul B tank" employing your methods to see if I can duplicate your success!
 
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Paul B

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You mean with a reverse undergravel filter and all? People will laugh at you. :der:
 
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Humblefish

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You mean with a reverse undergravel filter and all? People will laugh at you. :der:
I still have my Penn Plax Undertow in storage. :wink: So, all I would need to do is slap on a couple of Aquaclear Powerheads and run them in reverse, right?
 

Paul B

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I still have my Penn Plax Undertow in storage. :wink: So, all I would need to do is slap on a couple of Aquaclear Powerheads and run them in reverse, right?
Yes, but you have to run tem very sow. 150GPH down each tube, no faster and use gravel, no sand
 
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