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Overview on the effects of parasites on fish health

January 1, 2013

It is believed by many that parasites are only as important as the fish they infect. Parasites are ubiquitous, primarily surviving in a dynamic equilibrium with their host(s) and they are often overlooked in fish health assessments. Changes in the environment, both anthropogenic and environmental, can alter the parasite/host equilibrium and cause disease or mortality in fish. Therefore it is imperative that we have knowledge of both parasites and parasitic communities within a given population. When fish kills occur, it can often be associated with changes in parasite density and community composition. Often the damage associated with these fish is relative to the rate of infestation with the parasite; a fish that is lightly infected will show few signs of the parasite, while a heavily infected fish may become physiologically impaired and even die. Parasites can cause mechanical damage (fusion of gill lamellae, tissue replacement), physiological damage (cell proliferation, immunomodulation, detrimental behavioral responses, altered growth) and reproductive damage. As parasitism is the most common lifestyle on the planet, understanding its role in the environment may help researchers understand changes in a given fish population or stream ecosystem.