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Treatment of Disease in the Reef Tank

By Albert Thiel. Presented on 11/23/1997 on #reefs IRC.

Good evening to everyone. I have not had the opportunity to give a chat on #reefs for a while so I welcome the opportunity to meet many of you again, not visually but via this chat session. Thank you to those who head #reefs for asking me to "chat" again. The logs of my previous chats are in the Logs of the #reefs site and also on my own web site . Visit our site sometime if you have not done so yet. The Saltwater Library contains several hundred free articles and the logs of our mailing list his dozens and dozens of megabytes large, all searchable by keywords. So much for the blurb. Since I am transmitting this intro bit by bit myself I cannot entertain private side conversations via IRC but you are welcome to email me at Thank you for your understanding.

Oh, I forget, or nearly, I have sold Thiel Aqua Tech many months ago for those who were not aware of it, and I have "no" financial or "other" interests what so ever in Thiel Aqua Tech Products. I just wanted to make that clear so that there is no confusion. Let me clarify something else while I am at it:

Note that the Site we run on the Web "is" supported by the sponsors who put up banners, supplemented by funds I put up myself to keep the site going as the banners do not cover it's cost. I do have one source of revenue from the site though, and I mention it so everything is clear and in the open, and that is the NetClub (tm), a special Library of long articles on very specific topics. Those articles are not free. The reason they are not is that normally they would make up material for a book and no one gives away books.

In this day and age of electronic publishing though, it is a saving for the hobbyist to be a member of that Club as it provides far more detailed information than books and is updated as new material becomes available on the subject, something one cannot do with printed material. I wanted to state my present financial position and post it here too so that there is no confusion as to who I am, where I stand, and what my vested interests are. But on with our topic... sorry if this is a little long but I wanted to cover as much as I could. Disease is probably a topic that could be dealt with over various "chat sessions".

I have condensed some of the info and will answer your questions when we get to that stage and, if I do not have the answer, I can always get it to you and have #reefs add it to the file. Stick with it pls I think it is really worth it and you owe it to your animals but that is just my personal opinion.

Health in the Reef tank should be a major concern of everyone who owns such a tank as, when disease breaks out, not only is the risk of loosing one or more animals high, but the risk of loosing more than what we bargained for is very real. Many of us have found this to be the case I am sure over the years, especially those who have been in the hobby for some time now. Disease outbreaks spare no one. Disease outbreaks can occur at anytime and in any kind of aquarium.

While some of us may have years of expertise in reefkeeping, such is not a guarantee that our tanks will not be plagued with some disease, whether it is parasitic, fungal, bacterial, or other. In fact, very recently, a Clown Trigger I have for a breeding project I am involved in, broke out with a severe case of Velvet (Amyloodinium) or Coral Fish Disease. The treatment I used cured the fish and OOP as the Trigger is called is doing just fine now. You can follow his travails (and some are really really funny) in the OOP series of articles on our web site ( ). So, yes disease is very r e a l and always looming out there, ready to strike. Am I trying to scare you? No, not really, just trying to make a point and expressing a reality of reefkeeping and of saltwater fish keeping.

Taking a lackadaisical approach to disease is, therefore, a big mistake. We need to take disease potential very seriously as by doing so we will ensure that we minimize outbreaks of what may result in losses of animals (fish and corals and anything else living in the tank). Prevention, and the determination to do what is necessary to avoid outbreaks of disease is what is needed. It was gratifying to hear Martin Moe Jr. state the same position, recently at the Macna IX Conference.

He, too, is convinced that prevention is the way to keep disease out of our tanks or, perhaps, expressed in a better manner: do what is necessary to make sure that disease is not allowed to start. The potential for it is always there, let's not forget that. Taking action and being proactive against it, is what will keep our animals healthy and unaffected.

Sitting back and deciding that it will not happen to "us" is a very dangerous attitude and one that is sure to be contradicted sooner or later. Usually sooner than later. We do "not" wait till disease breaks out and then start to take curative or therapeutic actions. What we should be doing to begin with, is taking actions that will minimize the chances disease will set in or start. That is what I call being pro-active and really practicing prevention.

One of the difficult issues when disease breaks out is correct diagnosis. Only when we know what a fish or a coral is suffering from can we talk corrective measure should disease start anyway, regardless of what we have done to prevent it. So we really have two major areas of focus here: prevention and correct diagnosis. A third one is obviously knowing what to do and how to do it once a disease has been diagnosed.

Not an easy task perhaps but very do-able surprisingly enough, especially in light of what I stated before that sounded perhaps a little somber and negative. I am not a doomsday preacher but I do like to call a spade a spade! Disease is there and can be endemic to tank waiting for conditions to be right for it to start infecting our animals. Sounds familiar? Sure does to me as I recently found out.

Disease more than likely sets in based on "stress" factors being present (see Dieter Untergasser: Handbook of Fish Diseases, TFH TS-123) and are more likely to break out when the stress is of a prolonged nature. This applies to both fish and corals, not just fishes. Environmental stresses are often blamed and rightfully so. What this really means is that the water in your tank is such that its quality leaves to be desired and reduces the fishes and invertebrates and corals' ability to withstand outbreaks and attacks of bacteria, parasites, fungi and so on.

Pointed out as potential causes are frequent temperature fluctuations, water chemistry different from what the animal is accuatomed to, sudden changes in pH that happen too rapidly, high nitrate levels, lack of proper nutrition, water saturated with feces breakdown by-products, build up of DOC (dissolved organic matter), transfer of animals that creates stress, not acclimating corals and fish for long enough time.

Keeping incompatible animals, others are: not quarantining fish and corals or not for long enough, not "cleansing" incoming animals, overpopulation of the tank, frequent handling, stress brought about by the hobbyist moving too rapidly by the tank which can scare animals, as that can damage others (e.g. urchins scratching LPS corals), bringing in diseased fish to begin with (or corals for that matter), using nets and implements without disinfecting them as they may come from another tank that has disease organisms in it, low oxygen levels, presence of hydrogen sulfide, overfeeding, not performing water changes when necessary, insufficient skimming as opposed to overskimming, and so on and so on.

All of these are under our direct control and if we are diligent about what we do we can eliminate all of those causes very easily. But do we? Think about your own maintenance and husbandry techniques and decide whether you need to make changes to your present practices and go from there on. You will be surprised at how much you can improve by just looking carefully at what you now do and not continue "habits' that may lead to disease outbreaks because they fall into, or lead to, the causes listed earlier (and that list was not even exhaustive).

A little review of our actions will for sure eliminate a lot of these causes. I urge you to do so and make the changes you decide are necesary for your tank. Please take the time to do it. You will not be sorry you did. I speak from experience. I made those mistakes and learned the hard way.

Those were what is called "environmental" stresses that make fish and corals less resistant to disease attacks. Eventually, when this stress, or these stress conditions continue for long enough, the animal cannot cope with the attacks (just like you and me - if our immune systems are depressed due to stress we are more likely to catch a cold or the flu as I am now experiencing). All of these causes can be eliminated easily, well to be honest some are a little more difficult but you can get a handle on these as well, and at least eliminate a large number of the reasons why animals get diseased. What all of these often boil down to is water quality and handling practices plus maintaining filtration that is able to cope with the bioload in the tank.

Next comes the "less" easily controlled ones, the ones where we need to take more precautions. This is especially so if you already have a healthy reef and are going to introduce new animals, add more live rock or live sand, or make changes to the aquarium. These require a different approach and these are the ones most overlooked. They are really the ones that fall completely in the realm of "prevention" and are better know ans quarantining what comes in. Quarantining is not that complex but it involve additional work and not all hobbyists realize how important is it really is to put these into practice.

You will, of course, also require additional equipment to do so, but not much. A tank, usually a 10 or 20 gallon, an air pump and airstone to create water circulation or, alternatively, a small output powerhead pump, black plastic to wrap around the aquarium especially if you quarantining fish so they do not get scared when you or some else walks by the tank, some medications and additives, no ligthing, no fitration (you will be doing water changes to keep the water quality up.

To do so you will need a large vat with spare salt water prepared at least 24-36 hours in advance, one or more heaters (one for the tank and maybe one for the vat of spare saltwater), test kits to make sure that the water in the spare container (e.g. a large plastic garbage can) is of the same pH, s.g. and temp of the tank in which you are quarantining, tank dividers if you are acclimating more than one fish in the quarantine tank and do not want them to fight (use dark ones so they cannot see each other).

The same applies to quarantining corals except that you may not have to use the black plastic wrapping around the tank. It is also a real good idea to pre-treat the water used to prepare spare saltwater so you "polish" it and clean it up. Carbon may be necessary, a few Poly Fiters or an RO or DI unit. Anything needed to clean the water up. It does not hurt to have an ozonizer sitting around (low output) so you can inject very small amounts in the tank to kill offf parasites.

The type of additives you may need are the ones that are commonly suggested for treatment: Oomed, Stop Parasites, Medicated food, Copper sulfate, Quinine hydrochloride or Chloroquine, potassium permanganate, Dylox, Formalin, Dyes, and so on, including antibiotics such as Tetracycline, Erythromycin, Metronidazole, Kanamycin and Chloramphenical if you can get it, Flubendazole, Iodine, Lugol's and so on. You may want to familiarize yourself with antihelmetics or vermifuge to get internal worms and certain parasites to be expelled.

Very important note: some meds are not compatible with other ones so you should find out which ones. The package in which your med comes may or may not list them. Call the manufacturer if necessary or refer to one of the books I mention in this presentation. The Herwig book has a whole chart of them.

Which one is used depends on what you are treating for or what you suspect is necessary based on the diagnosis made. Do you need all of these all of the time. No you do not but you better know where to get them quickly if you do happen to need them. Note that Aquatronics makes a lot of these as standard pet shop items. Know of a store that carries them in the event that you need them.

It certainly helps to have a real good book on diseases so you know what to use and in what concentrations for the disease being treated (a good book in this area is "The Handbook of Drugs and Chemicals Used in the Treatment of Fish Diseases" by Nelson Herwig - Charles Thomas Publisher). Another real good books is Bacterial Fish Pathogens - B. Austin and D. A. Austin -Halstead Press). Having the resources to consult available will assist you a great deal. Remember, disease strikes when you least expect it and when getting information is difficult! The TFH book mentioned earlier is excellent as well and is called "Handbook of Fish Diseases" by Dieter Untergasser.

If you really want more and a book that really deals with prevention, I highly recommend "The Science of Fish Health and Management" by Dr John Gratzek (Tetra Press), Master Volume. So much for building up a library on fish disease and educating yourself or at least having the resources available if you need them (this is a little like home insurance, you have to have it and hope you never need it but when you do you are grateful you have it even if you don't like paying the premiums). Invest in some good books and be prepared.

So how do you quarantine? A lot depends on what animal you are quarantining and whether you think it is diseased or not. I will leave this open for the question and answer session as this presentation is starting to get real long already. Note also that may books describe the procedures to be followed but to know them you have to read the articles or books so, again, reading becomes a very important part of reefkeeping and saltwater aquarium keeping (and any type of aquarium keeping for that matter - diseases of plants exist too to illustrate my point).

I also think that there are a lot of "treatments" out there that are suggested as miracle cures that will stress the fish even more than they already are. They may cure a parasitic infestation for a short period of time but when the fish is placed back in the tank it will pick up new parasites that are there and that have an easy grip on the fish because it is stressed.

The treatment of corals is a real touchy subject in itself as a lot depends on what you are treating for and what type of coral you are dealing with but my recommendation is to dip every incoming coral in a mixture of SW to which iodine has been added. I add 10 drops of a 10 percent potassium I solution per gallon of water and dip the coral for up to 15 minutes. I then repeat that treatment about 15 minutes later. If you iodine solution is weaker, adjust the dosage accordingly if you wish to follow these same recommendations.

When dealing with a diseased coral more radical intervention may be necesary and portions of the coral may have to be cut away or snipped off (SPS types) to save the remaining healthy tissue. I will be glad to answer questions regarding these procedures. With LPS corals one dips the affected area in a water/iodine solution. The use of Vitamin C is also highly recommended to avoid disease. Prophylactic dosages suggested are 3 to 5 ppm daily.

When dealing with a diseased fish, correct diagnosis is the key. Learn what various diseases look like once a fish has them so you know what you are dealing with and can select an appropriate medication regimen. Again, ask questions if you wish more details and I will be glad to answer them.

Incoming fish should be quarantined for several days (7-10) to make sure they are "clean" and should be treated with milder dosage of medication (often copper sulfate or a copper solution). Not quarantining a new fish you just acquired is tantamount to inviting disease into your tank. It's an open invitation really!

Never ever use the water the fish came in or the coral came in and add it to your tank. You do not know what it contains! That is another quick way to introduce parasites and bacteria.

What about Live rock? Does it need to be treated. Is it practical to treat it? What I usually recommend to hobbyists who askk me the question is to do the following: take two buckets each filled with SW. In one bucket add 10 drops of iodine per gallon. Immerse the rock for about 5 minutes, swish it around. Then move it to the second bucket. That bucket should contain 20 drops of iodine per gallon and you should leave the rock in there for about 2 to 3 minutes. Then rinse the rock in plain SW and place it in a quarantine tank for a few hours. Add 1 drop of iodine per gallon to that tank.

After the rock has been in the tank for 2 to 3 hours rinse it again and then place it in the tank. Before adding it to tank, clean it again by swishing it around in bucket filled with plain saltwater. Oh you would be surprised what may come out of the rock when you do this, things like your beloved bristle worms and mantis shrimp and maybe even a stone crab or two ... just a by-product of pretreating. What you get out of the rock before adding it to the tank you will not have to struggle to get out afterwards.

Live sand can be added directly to the tank but does pose a risk of bacterial and parasite introduction. It is best when adding new live sand to increase your iodine dosage to 1.5 times what you normally run and do so for a few days.

Many also believe that stirring the sand after it has been established may release spores of disease/bacteria/parasites into the water. I don't think this has been proven but it has come up several times in connection with WBD (white band disease) on SPS corals The procedure for adding live sand is described in an article on our web site

I realize that this is such a broad topic with very important implication for your tank. I have tried to cover what I would call the basics and will gladly answer your questions if I can.

Disease is not as simple as it sounds as often more than one may be at work and combination type treatments may be necessary. It is also a fact that there are very very few totally reef safe medications that there are a lot of meds out there that make rather stunning claims.

Well so much for this long intro. I will be glad to take your questions now. Thanks to #reefs for this opportunity to present a topic of utmost importance to reefkeepers and FO tanks alike. Albert J. Thiel web site at (and, yes, the SW library has a section on diseases BTW)

Well that was not so bad was it. Apologies for any typos. Note that when I am finished answering a question I will put my initials at the end of the sentence (AT). That means the answer is there but that does not mean that it is complete as each question could take pages to answer depending on its complexity so you will forgive me for trying to be brief. Thank you.

As a last note: we are running a survey on what type of salt people use in their reef tanks. It is set up as a form that you can access at and I would appreciate your filling it out and sending it to me by clicking the submit button. Thank you. The more answers we get the more representative the survey will be. Albert.

I have an ick problem, I have been dosing with copper for 18 days now and I tested my water high ammonia high nitrates high nitrites and low pH of course killing me. So I think I broke the cycle. What should I do? I put a biobag into my wetdry to initiate the bacterial growth and added a bacterial supplement. The tank is 125 gallons and I have a wetdry for 150 gallons a protein skimmer and a 25 watt UV.
Sounds like you are going to have to recycle the tank I am afraid The copper destroyed the bacteria and now you will have to re establish a bio filter plus rebalance the water quality. That is the problem with copper. It may cure the fish temporarily but it can create havoc in the tank as you experineced. My recommendation is to take the remaining fish out and recycle and then reacclimate them AT
Are you (Albert) implying that Oop was stricken by a benign or dormant form of Amyloodinium?
I think I expalined how it started in the documents (part 37 and onwards. The Mollies got it going and the dormant form came back because suddenly it found really stressed fish that it could get hold off and use as a host. Then it migrated to the Damsel and then to OOP and the whole Velvet disease spread in a matter of hours to and it was a big surprise as I had never seen Velvet spread that quickly but I agree it was there in the dormancy state AT
What would the early warning signs of coral disease be?
Twitching probably would be the first sign you will observe and may be some cloudiness of the eyes and a little more rapid breathing AT
It seems from your list that you don't think U.V.Sterilizers are worthwhile.Why?(If so)
No I think they are too tricky to operate and need so much "work" that htey are not worth bothering with plus once you start with them you cannot stop + the recommended wattages are IMO way too low AT
Do you use the iodine procedure for live rock after curing, or instead of curing?
I use it when it comes in at first, I also lay it out on a tarp before I do that and keep it moist with SW spray leave for about 1/2 hour to get worms nad crabs to crawl out and then I start the iodine procedure. By leaving it out on a tarp you can remove many of the undesirables before the rock is in teh tank and before they become much harder to remove + it has been my experience that doing so does not harm the rock at all AT
For a beginner, is there a place to get a list of compatible critters that would safely stock a tank of a given size with average water quality control?
You would have to read several books, join a mailing list on the net perhaps and ask a lot of questions. I really do not know of any good book that really gives the full comp list Debelius wrote one for the reef tank but I do not know of a similar one for FO tanks AT
Are there any books to read about CORAL diseases?
Yes there are but the diseases are described in very short paragraphs. Only recently hvae diseases such as WBD white band disease RWD rapid wasting disease BBD black band disease YBD yellow band disease etc been brought to the literature and not much is known about them RTN appears to be the same as WBD BTW Getting on mailing lists is probably the best way to learn about them and a real good one is the one (g> We have close to 475 members right now that exchange message everyday but if you join via our web page be prepared for a lot of trafffic or subscribe to the digest form so you only get one long message a day as to books, no I really do not know of one that goes into great detail. There are some pics and graphics of Yellow Band disease on our web site in the SW Library that you can download they look yukkie let me tell you and the corals are in sorry shape when they catch it. AT
Most of your list members really respect what Ron(SWH) has to say.What do you think of his use of O3 to get rid of Ick?
Oh he uses so little that you cannot really say that he uses it to control ick all he does is use it at such a low dose that it kills may be the free floating parasites if any are present and I kind of doubt tehre are because he is so fussy about taking care of his tanks that he does not let thewater qual get out of hand the tinniest bit so his animals are never stressed. He also uses iodine liberally and uses additives and vit C so itis hard to tell what is really doing it . I don't think the ozone plays a great role in it. AT
How can you tell if one of your corals is getting a disease?
Receeding of tissue, white paste, brown jelly and so on are all signs that something is not right. Maybe not opening as it normally does for a few days in a row is a sign that something may not be right. one really needs to look at all of them every day and make sure they are doing as they are supposed to and take action if anything is observed that appears to be different than normally AT
A tang gets ick (surprise surprise ;-)), if I cannot remove it from the main display tank. What is the best way to deal with it?
If it is ick you can try the Tetra Oomed Quite a few people I know seem to have success with it. Then for ick there is the Marc W. additive that also gets good reviews and Ecolibrium it is hard to say as you may have to try different ones but the first thing I would do is add cleaner wrasse and shrimp and see if that solvest the problem as it very well may do it. Tangs get ick one day and then the next day it is gone and it comes back and goes and this can go on for days on end sometimes just having cleaners in the tanks solves that problem. Reverting to meds is not always the best approach unless there really is no other way becauser things are getting out of hand or because you have a bacterial disease or Velvet AT
Where does the coral go in between 15 minute Iodine baths?
Good question. In regular SW in a bucket, at the same temp etc as teh tank but not in the tank obviously as you have not completeed the treatment yet AT
What are some reef safe medications?
Oomed claims to be reef safe and many say it is + Weiss states that his coral vital is reef safe but I hve not used it myself so I cannot say for sure small doses of quinine appear to be ok but there is not much else you can use. Sometimes a low dilution of pot perm can be used and that is reef safe too AT
how do you choose a high grade live sand and can you recommend a mail order store that has good quality?
You have to trust who you order from. There is no guarantee. I do not like overnite shipping. I have it shipped airport to airport to get it faster and have less chance of die off or I get it locally. I cannot really recommend a good place as I deal with many. I think the method is more important than the supplier once you know that their sand is really really live live AT
For a beginner, is a bare bottom tank inherently less susceptible to disease than a live sand or plenum tank?
Not really because if you put live rock in it can come in with hte rock and if you get fish the fish may bring the disesase in (hence the need)' for quarantine. + anything live you add to the tank can bring disease in and for instance snails and hermit crabs can easily do so something that not too many hobbyists think about. They need to be cleansed too AT
What does a clownfish swimming eratically and disoriented indicate?
Hard to say. Could be swim bladder disease but I would have to see the fish to know or take a guess at it. The description is a little vague to know what exactly it would be but swim bladder problems or internal parasites seeem a definite possibility At
What level of Vit C is reccomended?
Therapeutic up to 50/60 ppm up to 2 or 3 times a day Prophylactically 3 to 5 ppm once a day AT
What is the quaintine procdure for snails, crabs, anomones etc?
The same as the rock. Iodine baths, AT
What do you think of Coral Vital, as help for saltwater ich?
I have not used it so I do not know but I placed an order with Reefers yesterday to get some in to try it out and see what happens. I know of a store here that has lots of sick fish so I will have no problem testing it and determining whether it cures or prevents. That is what is not clear to me and is not really clear in the instructions. AT
Anyone doing work on disease of inverts?
I woul like to make one statement before you open it up Yes I am on the coral-l list and there are many many researches presently involved in studying invert and coral diseases. AT

We are presently running a survey on what salts hobbyists use in their reef tanks and you can send your information in by using a form I designed for it that is located at when you use that URL you will get the form just make the selections from the drop down menus and hit the submit button pls., That would be really kind as I am trying to get as representative a sample as I can get so the more answers the better. I would really appreciate it if you logged on to our site and send me you selections. Thank you in advacne and tank you to the #reefs hosts for letting me be here tonite. I enjoyed ginving this chat a great deal. Thanks again Albert

I want to thank Albert for coming and for giving such an informative talk!

Created by liquid
Last modified 2006-11-26 04:29