top of page
  • Writer's pictureNew Wave Fishing Academy

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

To experience a day of fishing on the water with us be sure to check out our YouTube channel at the link below.

If you or someone you know is looking to get into fishing or you just want to become a more successful angler be sure to check out our "Zero To Hero Fishing Masterclass" for courses on everything fishing! The masterclass is built to help you learn how to find and catch fish like the pro's by providing all the information you need and a clear development path! Don't miss out check it out now at

Have you ever wondered why lures don't come with instructions and wanted to know how to fish them? Look no further than our "How To Fish" series where you will learn what each bait is, how to use it, when and where it excels over other baits, our preferred setup to use it on, and the common mistakes anglers make when using it.


bottom of page