Columnaris disease was induced in channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus (Rafinesque), by bath exposure to four highly virulent isolates of Flavobacterium columnare. In untreated controls, mortality began 20 h after exposure and reached 100% by 48 h. Mortality in channel catfish given antibiotic treatments with oxytetracycline or a combination of sulphadimethoxine and ormetoprim in feed prior to bacterial challenge was zero with all four strains of F. columnare. Diquat® (Zeneca Agricultural Products, Wilmington, DE, USA) was the most effective bath treatment; mortality with all four strains was zero. With potassium permanganate, chloramine-T, hydrogen peroxide and copper sulphate, bath treatment efficacy varied significantly among strains (P = 0.0346) and among treatments (P = 0.0033). Bath treatments with chloramine-T and potassium permanganate significantly reduced (P < 0.05) mortality from 100 to 75 and 69%, respectively, but copper sulphate and hydrogen peroxide treatments were not effective. Based on our results, oral antibiotics prevented columnaris disease but, of the bath treatments, only Diquat® produced a dramatic reduction in the mortality of acutely infected fish. Diquat® is labelled for aquatic use as an herbicide in the USA but in large ponds it is prohibitively expensive.