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SRAC Publication No.


September 1998

Aeromonas Bacterial Infections Ñ

Motile Aeromonad Septicemia
A.C. Camus1, R.M. Durborow2, W.G. Hemstreet3, R.L. Thune1 and J.P. Hawke1

Bacterial infections, caused by ceptible to infection. Under cer- Factors causing

motile members of the genus tain conditions mortalities can
Aeromonas, are among the most approach 100 percent.
disease outbreaks
common and troublesome dis- Aeromonas infections also occur Motile aeromonads are among the
eases of fish raised in ponds and in other vertebrates, including most abundant bacteria found in
recirculating systems. The wide- frogs, turtles, alligators and, fresh water aquatic environments.
spread distribution of these bacte- sometimes, humans. They also occur in brackish
ria in the aquatic environment waters, but are found less fre-
and the stress induced by inten- quently as salinity increases above
sive culture practices predisposes
Cause 15 parts per thousand (about half
fish to infections. Motile aeromon- Aeromonas hydrophila, A. sobria, the strength of seawater).
ad infections have been recog- A. caviae, and possibly other aero- Aeromonads are facultative,
nized for many years and have monads, are capable of producing which means they are capable of
been referred to by various disease in fish. While all members utilizing nutrients present in
names, including motile aeromon- of this group are small, motile, water and surviving for long peri-
ad septicemia (MAS), motile gram-negative, rod-shaped bacte- ods in the absence of host fish.
aeromonad infection (MAI), hem- ria and all share certain biochemi- They occur in the greatest num-
orrhagic septicemia, red pest, and cal characteristics, their scientific bers in organically rich waters,
red sore. In this publication, they names are constantly under revi- such as those found in ponds and
are referred to simply as sion and subject to change in the other aquaculture systems. These
aeromonas infections. Aeromonas future. Numerous strains of these bacteria can also be isolated from
bacteria causing these infections bacteria exist, and they vary great- the skin and intestinal tracts of
are called aeromonads. ly in their ability to cause disease. healthy fish, from pond mud,
Whether acting alone or in mixed In general, strains isolated from aquatic plants and certain proto-
infections with other organisms, the environment are less patho- zoan parasites. These factors make
the motile aeromonads are genic than those isolated from dis- the elimination of this group of
responsible for significant finan- eased fish. The marked genetic bacteria from fish rearing systems
cial losses annually. All species of diversity among different aero- impossible.
fish, scaled and unscaled, are sus- monad strains has made it diffi- Aeromonads are considered to be
cult to develop effective vaccines. opportunistic pathogens, capable
A non-motile aeromonad (Aero- of producing disease only in
1School of Veterinary Medicine, Louisiana
monas salmonicida), not discussed weakened populations of fish or
State University here, produces severe losses in
2Cooperative Extension Program, as secondary invaders in fish suf-
salmon, trout, goldfish and koi. fering from other diseases.
Kentucky State University
3Alabama Fish Farming Center
Aeromonas infections in large- may be seen in the skin only, as an of depigmentation (paleness) that
mouth bass and other scaled fish internal systemic disease (sep- can develop anywhere on the
are sometimes associated with ticemia), or as a combination of body surface. The skin overlying
infestation by the protozoan para- both. Outbreaks may be chronic these sites is eventually lost,
site Epistylis sp. Environmental (long-term) and affect only small exposing the muscle below (Fig.
stress factors, particularly those numbers of fish or may produce 2). These open sores or ulcers may
associated with poor water quali- acute (intense and short-term) remain superficial or they can be
ty conditions, enhance the devel- infections accompanied by rapidly extensive and invade deeply into
opment of disease. These factors increasing, high mortality rates. muscle, revealing underlying
include high water temperatures, In unscaled fish (e.g., catfish), bone in some cases (Fig. 3). These
high ammonia and nitrite levels, there is often fraying and redden- ulcers often have ragged white
pH disturbances, and low dis- ing of fins (Fig. 1), accompanied margins bordered by a narrow
solved oxygen levels. Heavy par- by irregular, variably sized areas zone of hemorrhage. In scaled fish
asite burdens, overcrowding, high
organic loads in the water,
spawning activity, seining activi-
ties, rough handling and trans-
port also may lead to outbreaks of
disease. Serious episodes of
stress, such as oxygen depletion
or cases of brown blood disease
(caused by nitrite toxicity), often
are followed by outbreaks of
aeromonas infection within a
Aeromonas infections are more
common in warmwater and tem-
perate species than in coldwater
fish. Infections can occur in any
age fish, but losses are usually
most severe in fry and small fin-
gerlings. Outbreaks are usually
seasonal, with peaks in the spring Figure 1. Channel catfish with severe erosion of the anal and caudal fins caused
to early summer and in the fall by Aeromonas sobria. Skin at the fin bases is swollen and bright red from hem-
when water temperatures are orrhage. (Photo by Al Camus)
between 65 to 85o F. Spring out-
breaks may be related to
decreased disease resistance in
fish that are in poor condition
from overwintering or after
spawning. Extensive handling
and transport of young fish in the
fall also may cause outbreaks.
Aeromonas infections do not fol-
low strict temperature ranges and
have been reported during every
month of the year. Although
rarely found in the winter,
aeromonads have been isolated
from lesions associated with win-
ter kill (winter fungus).

Clinical signs or
Signs of disease associated with
aeromonas infection are non-spe-
cific and may be easily confused Figure 2. Channel catfish with a shallow skin ulcer caused by Aeromonas
with other diseases. Infections sobria. Margins of the ulcer are white and ragged. Muscle tissue can be seen
vary greatly in appearance and beneath the ulcerated skin. (Photo by John Hawke)
Skin lesions caused ease. Losses from aeromonas
by aeromonads infections seldom exceed 50 per-
often have fungus cent; however, mortality is strong-
or columnaris bac- ly influenced by the general
teria present. Fish health status of the fish popula-
affected only with tion, stress level, and virulence of
skin lesions may the particular bacterial strain
continue to feed infecting the fish. Mortalities occa-
and survive for sionally approach 100 percent in
extended periods, fry and small fingerlings.
despite the presence
of severe ulceration Diagnosis
(Fig. 3). Daily mor-
talities associated Because aeromonas infection may
with this chronic mimic other diseases, sick fish
Figure 3. These channel catfish infected with form of disease may should be submitted to a diagnos-
Aeromonas hydrophila, which caused complete erosion be low, but can rise tic laboratory for a complete eval-
uation that includes bacterial
of the caudal peduncle, were captured alive. In this partic- to high levels over
identification and antibiotic sensi-
ular case, the disease ran its course in this pond, mortali- time. tivity testing to determine which
ties stopped, and no treatment of the surviving catfish The internal or sep- antibiotic will best treat the infec-
population was needed. (Photo by Bob Durborow) ticemic form of dis- tion. Motile aeromonads grow on
ease typically fol- most common culture media in 24
lows a more acute hours, but complete identification
(e.g., largemouth bass), skin
course with a sudden onset of rel- and antibiotic sensitivity testing
lesions begin as small hemor-
atively high mortalities. Affected will usually require an additional
rhages within scale pockets
fish usually do not eat and com- 24 to 48 hours.
(Fig. 4) that can rapidly expand to
monly will be seen swimming
larger areas. Affected scales are Several fish, showing signs typical
lazily near the waterÕs surface or
eventually lost and ulcers form. of the diseased population as a
in shallow areas of a pond. If dis-
Aeromonas infection may also whole, should be collected, sealed
turbed, the fish move into deeper
include any or all of the following in plastic bags without adding
water, but typically return to the
external signs: exophthalmia water, and placed in a cooler sur-
surface within a short period of
(popeye), abdominal distention rounded by ice or ice packs (see
time. The internal organs may be
(swelling of the abdomen), and SRAC publication number 472,
enlarged, reddened or pale, or
pale gills. Scaled fish often accu- Submitting a Sample for Fish Kill
have a mottled pattern of deep
mulate edema (fluid) in their scale Investigation). Also, a water sam-
red hemorrhage interspersed with
pockets. This condition, called ple from the pond or culture sys-
pale areas of tissue destruction or
lepidorthosis, creates a roughened tem should be submitted in a
necrosis (Fig. 4). Organs with sig-
or bristled appearance. clean container. Whenever possi-
nificant tissue necrosis become
weak and are easily ble, moribund fish (alive but near
damaged when han- the point of death) should be col-
dled. The intestinal lected. Avoid submitting fish that
tract typically will be are obviously decomposed or
devoid of food, red- have been floating dead. Well-iced
dened, and filled fish collected fresh can usually be
with cloudy yellow used for diagnostic purposes for
or bloody fluid and about 24 to 48 hours. Do not
mucus. The freeze samples; freezing seriously
abdomen may be hinders diagnostic evaluation.
filled with clear, Consult your local diagnostic lab-
cloudy or bloody oratory for specific details con-
fluid. The gall blad- cerning sample submission.
der will be filled
Figure 4. Skin hemorrhaging under the scales is especial- with large amounts Prevention and treatment
ly apparent in the caudal peduncle of this largemouth of green bile. Highly
Whenever aeromonas outbreaks
virulent (deadly)
bass infected with Aeromonas hydrophila. The pale occur, every attempt should be
strains may cause
white liver in the front of the body cavity and the mot- made to identify and eliminate
sudden mortalities
tled kidney at the top rear of the cavity are clinical signs with few external or sources of environmental stress.
of internal aeromonas infection. (Photo by Bob This alone will often correct the
internal signs of dis-
disease problem. Avoid handling
fish when they are in a weakened body weight per day, while a 1.25 feed. The recommended dosage
state or when environmental con- g/lb formulation is fed at 2 to 3 is 10.1 g of the Romet B¨ premix
ditions are less than optimal. Fish percent body weight per day. The per 100 pounds of fish per day for
should never be handled or trans- FDA has established a 21-day 5 days. The amount of feed to be
ported during an aeromonas out- withdrawal period following fed (calculated as a percent of
break. Terramycin¨ administration body weight) for various concen-
before fish or salmonids can be trations is listed in the table
Chemical treatments with potas-
marketed for human consump- below.
sium permanganate (KMnO4), at
a rate of 2 to 4 parts per million tion. The Romet B¨ is first mixed with
(milligrams/liter), are sometimes Romet¨ medicated feed, available corn oil or 5 percent gelatin (1 gal-
useful in the treatment of infec- as a floating pellet, is fed at a rate lon of oil per 200 pounds of feed),
tions limited to the skin. Potas- of 23 mg of active drug per pound then is applied to a floating pellet-
sium permanganate treatments of fish per day for 5 days, fol- ed feed to give a uniform coating
are of greatest value when fish are lowed by a 3-day withdrawal (a cement mixer works well for
feeding poorly or not at all, and period before catfish may be sold this). The coated feed should be
medicated feed is not an option. for human consumption air-dried and used immediately or
Potassium permanganate is (salmonids have a 42-day with- rebagged and stored for no more
presently on deferred status by drawal period). Romet¨ may be than 6 months in a cool, dry envi-
the Food and Drug Administra- milled into feed at concentrations ronment. The drug has a long
tion; it may be used but is not ranging from 5.6 to 6.6 pounds of shelf life even after addition to
officially approved. drug premix per ton of feed. The feed but the nutritional value of
amount of medicated feed to be the feed will become degraded
Systemic infections can only be
fed daily will vary with the spe- with prolonged storage. No feed
successfully treated by the use of
cific formulation, but the dosage should ever be used if it has
medicated feeds containing antibi-
of 50 mg/kg/day remains the become moldy.
otics. For medicated feeds to be
effective, it is essential that an same. Palatability problems are Before any treatment is initiated
early diagnosis is made and that associated with Romet¨ feeds, an evaluation of feeding activity,
the fish be fed as soon as possible, particularly at the higher concen- value of the fish, daily mortality,
before the disease causes them to trations, and fish may initially and potential future losses should
stop eating. Treatment with med- refuse to consume it. This prob- be weighed against the cost of
icated feeds will not be effective if lem may be alleviated to some treatment. It should also be noted
a large portion of the fish popula- degree by increasing the amount that the improper use of
tion has already stopped feeding. of fish meal (for more desirable Terramycin¨ and Romet¨ med-
Usually there is not enough time flavor) or by adding the drug to icated feeds has led to the emer-
to wait for the results of antibiotic the feed at a lower concentration gence of aeromonad strains resis-
sensitivity tests. Sensitivity test- and increasing the amount that is tant to one or both drugs. These
ing, however, may indicate that a fed daily. Infected catfish finger- antibiotics should be fed at the
different, more effective medi- lings are now commonly fed full therapeutic dose for the full
cated feed should be used. Romet 30¨ formulated at 11.1 number of days recommended on
pounds of premix per ton of feed the label. At lower-than-recom-
Oxytetracycline (Terramycin¨) is (the tag on the bag will indicate mended doses and feeding rates,
approved for control of motile the formulation). This particular the bacteria are better able to
aeromonad infections in catfish. formulation is fed to the fish at 3 adapt to the drugs by mutating
Sulfadimethoxine plus ormeto- percent of their body weight each and developing resistance to the
prim (Romet¨) is approved for day for 5 days. Romet¨ is a heat- antibioticÕs lethal effects.
controlling Edwardsiella ictaluri stable drug, so it can be formulat-
(ESC) infections in catfish. ed into a floating pellet. Use of a
Terramycin¨ medicated feed, floating pellet is
available as a sinking pellet, is advantageous because Feed intake of fish Pounds of Romet B¨
administered at a rate of 25 to 37.5 it allows producers to (% body weight) premix per ton of feed
milligrams of active drug per observe feeding
0.5 88.8
pound of fish per day for a period responses in diseased 1 44.4
of 10 days. Actual feeding rates fish populations. 2 22.3
vary according to the strength of Romet B¨ is the form 3 14.8
the medicated feed mixture. A of Romet¨ that can be 4 11.1
2.5 g/lb (grams of oxytetracy- 5 8.9
bought by individuals 6 7.4
cline/pound of feed) formulation to mix into their own
is fed at a rate of 1 to 1.5 percent

The work reported in this publication was supported in part by the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center through Grant No. 94-38500-0045 from
the United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperative States Research, Education, and Extension Service.