Epitheliocystis in fish: an emerging aquaculture disease with a global impact.
Epitheliocystis is a skin and gill disease in fish caused by pathogenic intracellular bacteria. The disease has been reported in at least 90 species of marine and freshwater fish in both the southern and northern hemispheres. It affects a number of commercially important aquaculture species, including salmon, kingfish and bream. In infected fish, cysts typically develop in the gill epithelia, promoting the fusion of gill lamellae. Infections can lead to respiratory distress and death, particularly in cultured and juvenile fish with cases rarely reported in wild fish. Modern molecular techniques are challenging the conventional wisdoms regarding the epidemiology of epitheliocystis, showing now that a number of distinct bacterial pathogens from completely different phyla can cause this disease. Here, we review the state of knowledge, including updates on aetiology, host range, diagnosis and treatments. Traditionally, bacteria from the phylum Chlamydiae were the only known pathogenic agents of epitheliocystis, but aetiology is now recognized as being more complex, including a range of Proteobacteria. Notwithstanding recent advances in identifying the pathogens, the reservoirs and modes of transmission remain largely unknown. Recent genome sequencing of the growing number of epitheliocystis agents suggests that many bacteria causing this disease are unique to individual species of fish. Environmental conditions that approach or exceed animals' physiological tolerances (e.g. atypical temperature, salinity or pH levels) are thought to contribute to disease development and progression. Empirical data and evidence concerning epidemiology, aetiology and treatments are, however, in many cases limited, highlighting the need for more work to better characterize this disease across the different hosts and locales affected.