Hole in the head disease
The cause of hole in the head has not yet been conclusively found. Infection by flagellate protozoan parasites such as hexamita has been identified as one cause. Other possible causes are poor nutrition, bacterial infection and poor water conditions. It is a serious illness and will kill the fish if left untreated or treated late.
Symptoms of hole in the head disease
Small holes or pits appear on the body mostly in the head region. These develop into infected pimples. Yellow or white stringy mucous will trail from these lesions. These may look like worm infections but are not. Fish with hole in the head will stop eating and develop an anorexic looking stomach region. Similar holes will appear along the fish’s lateral line and at the base of the fins. Usually the fish has long white stringy poop and lose their lustre, ie their colours will fade.
Cause of hole in the head disease
Hexamita is the common factor of most if not all outbreaks of hole in the head disease. Hexamita infection by itself may not result in hole in the head because it may lie dormant. Hexamita is an intestinal infection commonly occurring in many fish, but especially discus, angelfish, oscars and gouramis.
Normally the infection does little or no harm to the fish’s health. But when fish are weakened by poor conditions, such as overcrowding, decaying waste matter, poor diet or drastic temperature changes, the hexamita multiplies and a heavy infestation develops into hole in the head disease. Lack of vitamin C in the fish’s diet leads to immune deficiency and allows diseases such as hole in the head to take over. Although the vitamin deficiency may actually not be from the diet but from the hexamita damaging the intestines of the fish leading to malapsorption of vitamins.
Treatment of hole in the head disease
If the fish will eat then it is best to treat hole in the head with medicated food. However, since most fish with hole in the head won’t eat then you have to resort to medicating the water. The two drugs of choice are dimetridazole and metronidazole, but perhaps only available to vets. Usually several repeat treatments with these drugs are needed to completely eradicate the disease. And if there are secondary bacterial and fungal infections these also must be treated with the appropriate medication.
Once you have cured all your fish of hole in the head then you need to set about correcting the environmental causes of the illnesses. Reduce overcrowding. Improve and increase filtraion. Take care to not overfeed. Introduce vitamin C to the diet and generally improve the diet of the fish. Also quarantine any new stock that may reintroduce hexamita.
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