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The best known fish species, which are known to cure skin diseases such as psoriasis and abscesses are members of the Cyprinidae family, the so-called striker, Cyprinionmacrostomus, has a terminal mouth and a length of 15 to 20 cm. The second fish, known locally as a licker, Garraobtuse, has a crescent-shaped ventral mouth and a maximum length of 19 cm. Both fish are adapted to living in hot spring water and the Kangal Spa near Sivas, Turkey is a known place where ichthiotherapy is applied for therapeutic purposes. In the following link some interesting facts about doctor fish can be found: http://www.cumhuriyet.edu.tr/sivas/doctorfish/index.html

The revival of the use of living organisms to help in treating illnesses has grabbed the attention of the media recently. Reports of the use of leeches in plastic surgery and maggots in dermatology raise the question of which other animals may be of benefit, a concept some call biotherapy. While there are promising studies of the use of maggots to help the healing of necrotic and infected wounds, those wounds with high moisture content defy even the larvae. Rumors of healing fish had reached Dr. John Church, chairman of the International Biotherapy Society.Perhaps organisms, which live in an aquatic environment, could help to heal wet wounds, he mused. We received anecdotes of the widespread use of such fish in southern India, and so, while traveling through the region, I decided to hunt down the practice in order to see if it worked. To my surprise, the practice was well known, particularly in rural areas. Locals with skin infections, infestations, and wounds would bathe the affected limb in the pond, while certain fish would be drawn to the lesion and nibble at it, thereby removing diseased tissue. After some searching I discovered Rishimangalam Tank, a local holy pond in the centre of Trivandrum, Kerala State. Through the services of an interpreter, some local boys were happy to collect some fish they recognized, using their dhotis as fishing nets. My intention had been to pickle them in a jar of gin for later identification. However, by coincidence, that very evening I met Professor Padmanabham of the fish biology department at the University of Kerala. He was familiar with Macropodus cupanus, the fish, which he identified for me, as he had written a thesis on it. He told me that the practice of bathing limbs in pools for fish to help healing was widespread; in particular, mothers brought their children to be cured of scabies. The fish live in polluted water where they survive by both aerial and gill respiration, possessing accessory labyrinthine organs. Their preferred food is mosquito larvae, and as they eat constantly they do not need starving before use, unlike some species of maggots. Once drawn to the limb by substances which diffuse from the wound into the water, they eat, enjoying living and dead tissue equally. Although they nibble at the necrotic tissue faster, the eating of the living tissue can be quite painful. Perhaps we are not all ready to have our British wounds nibbled away, but with the use of local anesthetic cream before treatment, the day may yet come where dermatology departments offer maggot treatment for the drier lesions, and the biopool for the wetter ones (Cohen, J. Feeding the fish. Brit. Med. J. 2000: 320: 181).

For more details see Conferences: Sixth International Conference on Biotherapy



Copyright 2007 Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
Last modified: 01/01/07