Neon Tetra Disease - Causes, Treatment, And Tips For Prevention

Neon Tetra Disease is highly contagious and extremely difficult to treat. Inside this article you'll learn techniques for preventing this commonly fatal disease in your aquarium.


tetras neon xs 20086716Though the name suggests otherwise, Neon Tetra Disease affects a variety of freshwater aquarium species including Danios, Minnows, Goldfish and Angelfish. This disease is, however, most prevalent in Neon Tetras, or Paracheirodon innesi. Neon Tetra Disease is highly contagious and often fatal because it is notoriously difficult to diagnose and to treat. Affected fish may exhibit few symptoms until the disease has progressed beyond the point at which recovery may even be possible. For this reason it is important for aquarium hobbyists to understand this disease and to learn to recognize the symptoms so prompt action can be taken at the first sign of illness. This may be the only hope your fish have of surviving this terrible infection.

Causes of the Disease

paramecium xs 21776020Neon Tetra Disease is caused by a parasite called Pleistophora hyphessobryconis. This parasite is a single-celled organism called a sporozoan which typically enters the body of the host fish through contaminated food. Once the parasite has entered the host body it spreads and eventually settles in the skeletal muscles where it begins to mature. Over time, this parasite produces spores which may be distributed to new host fish upon the death of the original host. If the parasite settles in the gut or kidneys rather than the skeletal muscles, it may release spores directly into the aquarium through eliminated waste. Because there are a variety of ways for the spores to be transmitted, Neon Tetra Disease is highly contagious.

Identifying the Symptoms

deadfish xs 3815118When first infected, fish carrying the Pleistophora hyphessobryconis parasite may exhibit no symptoms at all. As the parasite spreads throughout the body, the host fish may become less social, prone to hiding rather than moving with the school. Infected fish may also lose their appetite and, due to a combination of poor nutrition and the progression of the disease, they may also lose their coloration or develop white patches on their flanks. In the final stages of the disease, infected fish may develop swellings or contortions accompanied by difficulty swimming. These symptoms are often visible indications of internal damage to the musculature of the host fish.

Because the symptoms of Neon Tetra Disease appear in a way similar to a number of other aquarium fish diseases, it is difficult to properly identify this particular disease. Bacterial infections, nutritional deficiencies and stress related to poor water quality may all produce similar symptoms, making the job of the aquarist very tough when it comes to identifying a disease by its symptoms. Since Neon Tetra Disease is so contagious, many aquarists choose to err on the side of caution and quarantine affected fish immediately at the first sign of symptoms.

Treatment Options

tetras cardinal xs 19751135This disease is notoriously difficult to treat, largely because it is so tricky to diagnose. Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, the disease has likely progressed past the point of possible recovery. If the affected fish are still exhibiting mostly normal feeding behavior and movements, an antibiotic treatment may help. In most cases, however, there are no effective treatments for Neon Tetra Disease. Most aquarium hobbyists take one of two actions when they suspect an outbreak of Neon Tetra Disease – they either euthanize the affected fish immediately to prevent the spread of the disease or they move the affected fish to a quarantine tank until the diagnosis can be confirmed.  If a fish infected with Neon Tetra Disease is allowed to remain in the main tank, it is only a matter of time before the disease spreads to the rest of the school and perhaps to other fish in the tank as well.

Tips for Prevention

Since Neon Tetra Disease is extremely difficult to treat, the best option is to prevent an outbreak from ever occurring, if you can. The simplest way to avoid introducing the Pleistophora hyphessobryconis parasite into your aquarium is to avoid infected live foods and new fish. Cultivating your own live foods is a good way to ensure that the foods you are feeding your fish are not contaminated with pathogenic bacteria or parasites. Hatching and raising brine shrimp is a fairly simple process and it is possible to create your own cultures for Daphnia and other organisms. Do not purchase sick fish - or fish that have been kept in a tank with sick fish – and always quarantine new fish for two weeks before adding them to your tank. This procedure is very important if you hope to maintain a healthy aquarium environment.

Aquarium fish that are otherwise healthy may be able to fight off Neon Tetra Disease after being exposed to the spores of the parasite. It is mainly for stressed or otherwise weakened fish that this disease becomes fatal. In order to increase the chances that your fish will be able to fend off this deadly disease, keep your aquarium as clean and stress-free as possible. Performing weekly water changes and vacuuming the substrate in your aquarium are the most effective ways to keep the water quality in your tank high. When the tank itself is clean and healthy, your fish are more likely to be healthy as well.

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