Goldfish? Really?!? Well, according to a new study from Henry Ford hospital, fish may not be quite as benign as they seem. To be fair, it’s not the fish themselves, but the water they swim in that may be harmful to health.
Researchers have shown that contaminated water in home aquariums can lead to a skin infection known as Mycobacterium marinum. The condition is characterized by reddish skin lesions or bumps on the hands or arms.
It’s difficult to diagnose and treat because skin lesions don’t appear for two to four weeks after contact with the bacteria, leading to delayed treatment and unnecessary and ineffective use of antifungal and antibacterial agents.
Complicating matters further is that patients fail to remember or mention the source of the exposure, which is often traced to them cleaning their aquarium. Infection results when bacteria in the non-chlorinated water attacks an open skin wound on the arm or hand.
“People just don’t know or think about their fish tank harboring this bacterial organism,” says George Alangaden, M.D., a Henry Ford Infectious Diseases physician and the study’s lead author.
“And unless they’re directly questioned about it by their physician, who may or may not have adequate knowledge of Mycobacterium marinum and its prolonged incubation period, appropriate treatment often gets delayed.”
During the study, conducted between January 2003 and March 2013, researchers identified five patients ages 43 to 72 treated at Henry Ford for Mycobacterium marinum. Skin biopsies performed on all five patients confirmed the infection.
The incubation period before skin lesions appeared ranged from 11 to 56 days. While all five patients responded effectively to antibiotic treatment, it took on average a staggering 161 days from the time of initial presentation to time of treatment.
“Mycobacterium marinum is not a life-threatening illness, but it remains an unrecognized cause of skin infection,” says Dr. Alangaden. “To accelerate diagnosis and treatment, physicians are encouraged to ask detailed questions about the patient’s history, especially questions about potential exposure to aquariums.”