Over 30 cases of rare skin infections have been reported in the New York area, according to the city Health Department. The uncommon bacteria known as Mycobacterium marinum has been linked to three different fish markets in the areas of Manhattan’s Chinatown, Flushing Queens and Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. The bacteria causes a highly uncommon infection called aquarium granuloma. There has not been an outbreak of this type of infection for 20 years in New York City. The bacteria seems to be transferred by handling live or raw fish and seafood. The bacteria typically gets into the body through cut or open wounds on the skin. This is thought to be the case with the latest outbreak. However the number of people suggests that something with the bacteria has changed.
Once the bacteria enters the body small areas of tissue become inflamed and are referred to as granulomas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who acquire the bacteria form “fish tank granulomas.” The rare skin infection can present symptoms that include red lumps on the hands and arms, painful swelling under the skin that may make it difficult to move extremities. If the condition goes untreated for a long period of time the infection may spread and require far more than antibiotics, some cases may eventually require surgery.
The outbreak linked three different New York fish markets to the uncommon bacteria. Health officials claim even though a rare skin infection may be contracted by touching the products, there are no health risk when the seafood products are cooked. According to Dr. Jay Varma from the Department of Health in New York City, “This is not an infection that you can get from eating fish or seafood. It’s only from actually handling intensely with your hands.”
Health officials continue to investigate the outbreak that has resulted in so many people getting the rare skin infection. New York medical personal say they expect cases to increase as additional information on symptoms and locations become available. Experts recommend wearing plastic water proof gloves while handling raw or live seafood. Strict hand washing should also be enforced when touching raw products. The good news is the bacteria can not be transfer from person to person. And officials say gloves and hand washing has always been recommended. Officials warn people to use extra caution when handling raw seafood if they do already have cuts in the skin. Extreme caution should also be used when preparing this type of food as some of the people from the recent cases cut themselves while preparing raw food.
As officials continue to figure out exactly how this uncommon bacteria made its way to three local New York fish markets, more in-depth questions will be asked. What exact fish were handled; what exact market; where did the fish come from; where were the fish kept. Answers to these questions could help piece together the missing link as to why there is such an outbreak of the rare skin infection now. Dr. Varma acknowledges, “This is a very uncommon bacteria so the fact that we’ve detected 30 cases so far suggests that something has changed, either about the water in the tank or the tanks themselves or the types of fish or seafood that are causing this problem.” One thing is known, if you have been in contact with any of these markets and start to see red bumps, lesions or swelling, you may have contracted the rare skin infection and you are urged to contact a physician or the New York Health Department immediately.
By Shannon Malone