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That sure sounds like columnaris to me. There is a great little
disease book put out by the Dutch, I believe, called the Color Guide To Fish
Diseases, or something close to that, and it pictures how columnaris looks on
many different species -- and it varies alot! It is my belief, that as far as
bacteria infections go, Flexibacter (spelling?) columnaris is the biggee in
the hobby today. I think it is the bug in the guppy, discus and angelfish
plagues of recent years. I learned to deal with it by trying to treat
cardinal tetras in a LFS I worked at. Cardinals always get columnaris when
they come in. The fish gets either very thin or slightly bloated (maybe a
related infection of something?), swims to itself, becomes listless, begins
to pump its gills and breathe heavily, the fins will look slightly frayed,
and a large whitish/grey patch or "saddle" will appear on or under the skin
on the back somewhere. This patch grows. Mouth fungus and what look like
blisters under the eyes are also common. In the angels and discus the
bacteria looks like thick gray body slim on the sides of the fish and these
species clamp their fins and shimmy. Small fish die within hours or a day.
I have found that a drug with furanace (spelling?) in it works pretty
good. I use Jungle's Pond Fungus Eliminator or another one called Furacyn.
Both work. I double the dose, change 50-75% of the water daily and re-treat
each day for 3 -5 days. If the fish already shows signs of the disease,
except in angels and discus, it is usually finished, but the treatment seems
to stop it before it gets started in the other fish. I usually remove the
obviously sick ones before they die and treat the remaining healthy looking
ones so that the healthy looking ones won't eat the dead ones -- although
they usually don't feel like eating.
Furanace seems ok with most plants. Java Fern does not like it though
and I have heard Anubias does not either -- although mine do ok.
I hope this helps. There is no science here, just trial and error
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