That aquarium in your livingroom or the kids' bedroom could be a health hazard. That's the latest word from Henry Ford Hospital researchers who have linked a nasty skin infection to contaminated water in home aquariums.
The infection — Mycobacterium marinum
— is often missed by doctors and is difficult to treat because skin lesions don't appear for two to four weeks, and some antifungal and antibacterial agents are ineffective against it.
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"People just don't know or think about their fish tank harboring this bacterial organism," said 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."
Researchers who presented their findings at the Infectious Diseases Society of America's annual meeting in San Francisco this week said such infections are usually traced to cleaning an aquarium with non-chlorinated water. The bacteria can attack an open skin wound on the arm or hand.
The findings are based on an analysis of five patients, treated between January 2003 and March 2013, at Henry Ford for Mycobacterium marinum, which causes reddish skin lesions or bumps on the hands or arms. The incubation period before skin lesions appeared ranged from 11 to 56 days. All five patients responded effectively to antibiotics, but it took an average of 161 days from when the symptoms first occurred to the 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."
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