parasiticparasitic disease that affects a variety of freshwater fish species and that is caused by the ciliated protozoan Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. Ich is one of the most common diseases encountered in tropical-fish aquariums. Its signs include the presence of small white spots resembling a sprinkle of salt grains on the body and gills, frequent scraping of the body against objects in the environment, loss of appetite, and abnormal hiding behaviour. Affected fish may die from direct tissue damage by the parasite and secondary microbial infections. The parasite matures in the epithelium of the fish's skin, where it is resistant to chemical treatment of the water environment. The mature parasite leaves the host, settles, and forms a cystlike structure that also protects it from chemical treatment. Immature forms (tomites) are produced in quantity within the cystlike structure and then released. A tomite must quickly infect a new host, as it cannot otherwise survive; i.e., it is an obligate parasite. Copper sulfate added to the water is an effective treatment at certain stages of the parasite's life cycle. Efforts to develop an antiparasitic vaccine have had some success but are hindered by the inability to propagate the parasite in the laboratory and by the method of vaccine administration, which is either direct injection of the fish or addition to the water environment.
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