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Fish Tuberculosis

Updated on May 24, 2010
Fish tuberculosis of the marine kind infecting a human.
Fish tuberculosis of the marine kind infecting a human.

Fish tuberculosis is a particularly nasty fish disease more common than many might imagine, especially among anabantoids like Siamese Fighting Fish, although it can affect all kinds of fish, including marine fish.

What is Fish Tuberculosis? Is It Dangerous To People?

Fish TB isn't actually TB, though it does arise from bacteria found in the same family as human tuberculosis, and in some cases can infect humans. Typically the highest risks come from servicing infected marine tanks, because the marine version of fish TB, Mycobacterium Marinarum, is more transmissible to humans than other forms. In humans, the infection usually takes the form of purple lesions on the hands, these require immediate medical treatment as the disease can destroy flesh, so if you suspect that your tank is infected with fish TB, and if you've been noticing strange sores on your hands, get medical treatment as soon as possible.If you suspect that you have fish sick with fish TB, wear gloves, especially if you keep a marine tank.

Does My Fish Have Fish TB? What Does Fish Tuberculosis Look Like?

Sufferers of fish TB exhibit several symptoms, many of which are common to other fish diseases as well, however there are some types of fish TB. The first is listlessness, which is common to many fish illnesses, however listlessness soon transforms into refusing food and then eventually, wasting as the fish refuses to eat and grows progressively skinnier. A major sign of fish TB is a kinked spine, which many fish develop as the disease advances.

So, to summarize:

  • Listlessness
  • Clamped Fins
  • Refusing Food
  • Wasting Away
  • Kinked Spine

There are however, several diseases which may present this way and though you will certainly know that your fish is ill, it is very difficult to say that a fish has fish TB for sure without lab tests

How Do I Treat Fish TB?

Fish TB can sometimes be treated with broad spectrum antibiotics, however oftentimes once the disease is advanced to the stage where the fish is no longer eating and wasting away then euthanasia may be best. Diseases like fish TB can spread throughout entire communities of fish if affected specimens are not removed and treated, although as a caveat to that, some fish experts believe that various strains of Mycobacterium are present in the bulk of fish populations and it is simply stress that allows the infection to take hold.

The best cure, is therefore prevention. Have a water testing kit and use it. Ensure that ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are all at acceptable levels. Do regular water changes. Ensure that your tanks are not over stocked and that the species within them are compatible. Constant bullying can kill fish. And at the end of the day, if you have done your best to keep your fish healthy, do not berate yourself too soundly. Fish get sick, sometimes in the most weird and fantastical ways, and all we can do is our best in caring for them.


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