Flukes or “Trematodes” are small flat worms about 1mm in size. There are many different types of this parasite but they all share the same symptoms and are treated in the same way. It is a little more dangerous because not only can the body become infected but the gills can as well making it much harder to diagnose.
So how are flukes different from other parasites such as Ich?
First of all most fish fall ill when their living conditions are unhealthy or when there are high stress levels. This does not apply to flukes. Even the healthiest of fish can become infected. The other difference is the appearance of the worm itself. You cannot see it with your naked eye but you will notice a build up of mucus. If you were to look under a microscope you would see movement and even eyes!
Other symptoms of flukes are much like other parasitic infections. Your betta will rub or “scratch” itself against objects due to irritation. There will be an increase in mucus as I stated before, redness on the body and rapid breathing. Gill flukes will show as tiny dark spots.
So where do flukes come from?
There are two places your flukes could come from. First is infected fish that you bring home. When purchasing a new fish it is always wise to isolate the fish in a separate tank for about a week so you can observe its health. The second surrogate is live food. If you purchase live foods from an unknown source or perhaps a source that housed your live food in fish water.
How to rid your tank of flukes.
The most basic treatment are salt baths repeated over the course of a few days. This is easiest for those who have a betta housed alone in a smaller environment. A potassium permanganate bath is a messy but effective bath solution as well. If you are experiencing a bad breakout and require medication purchase a product called formalin. I recommend trying salt baths prior to purchasing additional chemicals.
To carry out a salt bath put 1 tablespoon of non-iodized salt in 1 gallon of water. Place the infected fish in this water for five minutes then return it to its tank.
A potassium permanganate bath is the same concept. Follow the packaging for correct dosing depending on the brand you have purchased.
Be sure to monitor your betta or any other fish you bathe very closely. If they display signs of stress or adverse side effects they will need to be removed from the bath solution immediately.
Preventing a fluke infection is simple. Do not expose it to your tank. This means you should always isolate any new fish you have purchased for at least a week. This gives you the opportunity to observe their physical health. Also if you prefer using live food in your betta’s diet it would be wise to home raise your own food. It’s hard to know exactly where your food is coming from and you won’t know if they are carriers of flukes until it is too late.
Luckily betta fish are not commonly affected by flukes especially if housed alone. However, it is wise to take the preventative measures to ensure your beta stays safe. A fluke infestation or any other parasitic infection could eventually lead to Septicemia.