Whirling disease

From Fish
A metacercaria cyst of Galactosomum
A metacercaria cyst (arrow) of Galactosomum found in the interbrain of tiger puffer

Galactosomum spp are a parasitic fluke of fish, affecting the central nervous system of many fish, including the Yellowtail (Seriola quinqueradiata), tiger puffer, (Takifugu rubripes), Japanese striped knifejaw (Oplegnathus fasciatus), Japanese anchovy (Engraulis japonica), Silver-stripe round herring (Spratelloides gracilis), and Japanese jack mackerel (Trachurus japonicas)

The metacercaria are 2.7-4.9 mm long (Fig. 2). The fish is the second intermediate host for the parasite and a black-tailed gull is the definitive host. The first intermediate host is not disclosed[1].

Life cycle

Infected fish may be easily eaten by black-tailed gull since the fish are whirling near the sea surface. This makes the parasite complete the life cycle efficiently. This disease is known to be endemic (a local disease), suggesting the limited geographical distribution of the definitive host (bird) or the second intermediate host (fish). This disease occurred from early August to early September, when water temperature is 24-27 C. This may be because of the limited release period of cercariae from the first intermediate host. It is recommended not to rear the fish in the invasion time of the parasite in endemic areas.

Clinical signs

Infected fish exhibit whirling behavior near the sea surface, but no external abnormalities are observed. They have a spherical cyst of metacercaria ( 0.8-0.9 mm in diameter) in their interbrain. In general, a single metacercaria cyst is observed per one fish[2].

Neurons around the metacercaria in the interbrain degenerate and become necrotic due to pressure of the cyst. This may cause the whirling behavior. Diseased fish will die in 1-2 days. Since this parasite is not infectious to human, it is harmless in food hygiene.


Fish showing a whirling behavior in endemic area is probably infected with this parasite. Confirmation of a metacercaria in the interbrain is needed to make a definitive diagnosis[3].


Treatment is not normally recommend as culling is usually required, by this trematode is sensitive to praziquantel.


  1. Kamegai, S., N. Yasunaga, S. Ogawa and S. Yasumoto (1982) Galactosomum sp. from intestine of Larus carassirostris from Nagasaki, Japan. Jpn J Parasit 31:31
  2. Kimura M. and M. Endo (1979) Whirling disease caused by metacercaria of a fluke. Fish Pathol 13:211-213
  3. Yasunaga, N., S. et al (1981) On the marine-fish disease caused by Galactosomum sp. with special reference to its species and life cycle. Bull Nagasaki Pref Inst Fisheries 7:65-76