Rare Skin Infection Outbreak in New York City

skin infection

A rare skin infection outbreak in New York City is keeping the health department vigilant after 30 people developed “fish tank granuloma,” which refers to a small area of inflammation that occurs in a tissue. The unusual bacteria called Mycobacterium marinum has been spotted in people who bought fish or seafood from the Chinatown markets in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, but the health department stated that the infection was not caused by eating fish, but by touching it. The case of the rare skin infection has not been discovered yet, but the possibilities range from fish tanks to types of fish or seafood. People who have been infected with M. marinum¬†experience symptoms like tender and red lumps, swelling under the skin of the hands or even difficulty moving fingers.

The cause of the rare skin infection outbreak which has determined New York City’s health department to take precautions and advise the population to wear waterproof gloves not only while shopping for fish at markets in Chinese neighborhoods, but also while preparing it at home has not be discovered yet. Doctor Jay Varma, the deputy commissioner for disease control stated that the bacteria is common in fish, but it does not usually cause infections in humans. The skin infection turns into a red lump especially if the person handling fish has cuts on hands or arms.


All 30 people who experienced the symptoms caused by M. marinum bought seafood at markets in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, Queens’ Flushing and Manhattan’s Chinatown. However, discovering the source of the outbreak is difficult because the infection usually takes weeks to show signs. Typically, the first symptoms of the rare skin infection are bumps under the skin, which transform into a wound that will not heal.

The CDC stated that the bacteria is treatable with antibiotics, but if the infected area is not treated on time, it could require surgery to repair damages to muscles, tendons and nerves. However, since the infection is so rare, diagnosis can be delayed. The institute also mentioned that, in one-third of reported cases, this rare skin infection can burrow deeper into the bone.

The health department stated that traditional Chinese medicine do not work, so a targeted combination of antibiotics should be strictly taken.

The Beginning of the Outbreak

Doctor Danny Fong, a hand surgeon who works in Manhattan’s Chinatown saw one patient with M. marinum in August 2013, but the cases continued to grow until he alerted the health department in February 2014. Of all patients diagnosed with the rare skin infection, the majority got infected after pricking in fish bones, and one fell iff after he cut himself on a lobster.

No fishmarkets have been closed yet, because health officials could not discover the source of the infections, but water in the fish tanks and certain types of fish could be part of the reason. Until the problem is resolved, both sellers and buyers are advised to wear waterproof gloves when touching fish or seafood and pay attention to symptoms like tender and red lumps, swelling under the skin of the hands or even difficulty moving fingers. New York City’s health department has not found the cause of the rare skin infection outbreak yet, but an ongoing investigation is trying to eliminate safe markets and fish types and isolate the bacteria.

By Gabriela Motroc


The New York Times

CBS News

The Huffington Post

New York Daily News

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