Fish-handler’s disease

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Fish-handler’s disease is defined as a condition among humans that arises after handling fish or other water organisms.

Based on studies conducted, there are 2 genera of bacteria pinpointed as the main causative agents, specifically mycobacterium and erysipelothrix.

What is the cause?

Fish-handler’s disease develops if a scrape or cut in the skin is infected by the bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae or other species.

Fish-handler’s disease
Fish-handler’s disease develops if a scrape or cut in the skin is infected by the bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae or other species.

The handling and preparation of fish and shellfish or other similar activities results to miniature skin scrapes or cuts where the bacteria can enter. The condition is reported globally wherever fish and shellfish are handled.

It can also be caused by the Mycobacterium bacteria. Aside from handling fish, cleaning aquariums, swimming pools, catching lobster or fishing will allow the entry of bacteria.

Fish or other water creatures with evident surface lesions must not be touched with unprotected hands or consumed. Nevertheless, prepared aquatic organisms could not cause the disease.

What are the signs of fish-handler’s disease?

It is important to note that the disease manifests within 2-7 days after damage to the skin and followed by a bacterial infection.

The indications of fish-handler’s disease caused the Erysipelothrix bacteria include the following:

  • Well-defined, reddish-purple round area that borders the puncture. The center typically fades with an occasional vesicle.
  • Site of injury grows at around ½ inch in a day.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes, joint rigidity as well as pain, itchiness, burning and swelling at the site can occur if an infection is present.

In rare cases, the condition might progress to sepsis and endocarditis.

If the cause is Mycobacterium, it develops around 2-4 weeks after exposure. The indications of fish-handler’s disease brought about by the Mycobacterium bacteria include:

  • Multiple, linear skin lesions but can be single
  • Lesions can develop as abscesses, nodules or ulcerations with changes to the skin color and develops slowly.
  • Joint pain, tendonitis and enlarged lymph nodes might develop

In rare cases, the disease might progress to sepsis.

Management of fish-handler’s disease

The treatment for the disease caused by the Erysipelothrix bacteria include:

  • Cleansing of the wound using fresh tap water. Gently brush the wound using water and soap to get rid of any foreign debris.
  • Apply a topical-based antibiotic ointment at least 3-4 times throughout the day.
  • Oral antibiotics are often given to manage the skin infection. The recommended course must be completed even if the signs have cleared.
  • The discomfort can be lessened with pain medications.

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