Fish Handler's Disease
You're not the only one, we had no idea this was a thing until one of our own team members contacted it from a cut caused by a musky! after the cut (or bite technically) his thumb swole up, lost its skin, and just wouldn't heal. After a trip to the hospital and some blood tests it was confirmed; fish handler's disease. The only fix was antibiotics. A few weeks on these and things were cleared up good as new.
So what is it?
Fish handler's disease is the broad term for an infection obtained from bacteria getting in cuts or scrapes while handling fish. This can also be contracted handling anything in fresh or saltwater as well as pools, cleaning aquariums, and so on but fish handling has the best chance of creating a cut or scrape and introduce bacteria at the same time. We won't show any images of this disease as the photos can be quite graphic (fair warning).
The disease generally develops two to seven days after injury to the skin but may not show for up to 4 weeks. Depending on the bacteria contracted the symptoms will vary but can include:
A sharply defined, the red-purple circular area appears and surrounds the puncture; the center usually fades, and occasionally a vesicle (blister) may appear.
The area of injury increases in diameter by about ½ inch per day.
Joint stiffness, lymph node swelling, and pain burning, itching, and swelling at the injection site may accompany the infection.
A superficial crusted or ulcerated skin nodule can develop
Many inflammatory nodules can appear along with a buildup of pus
Skin lesions are often multiple and linear but can be single.
Lesions can appear as nodules, abscesses, or ulcers, with skin color changes, and develop slowly (months).
More serious infections could result in arthritis, tenosynovitis (where muscle connects to bone), osteomyelitis (bone infection), bursitis or systemic infections.
Rarely, the disease may progress to produce sepsis (infection of the bloodstream) and endocarditis (infection of the heart valves).
If you come into contact with a fish or receive a cut as a result of handling one be sure to flush the wound immediately and treat with anti-septic wipes. If symptoms develop be sure to clean more thoroughly and apply topical ointments a few times a day. Should the infection persist antibiotics will be required at varying strengths dependent on the depth of the infection.
Additional Resources To Learn More About Fish Handle's Disease
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