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Your aquarium can be source of skin infections

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MONDAY, Oct. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Delayed diagnosis and treatment of a skin infection linked to contaminated water in home aquariums is common, according to a new study.

Mycobacterium marinum infection occurs when bacteria in the non-chlorinated water of an aquarium enters an open skin wound on the arm or hand.

It can be difficult for doctors to identify and manage the infection because it takes two to four weeks of incubation before skin lesions appear. Because it's been so long, many patients don't remember the source of the exposure, the Henry Ford Hospital researchers said.

"People just don't know or think about their fish tank harboring this bacterial organism," study author and infectious diseases physician Dr. George Alangaden said in a Henry Ford Health System news release.

"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," Alangaden explained.

The study included five patients, aged 43 to 72, who were treated for M. marinum infection at Henry Ford between January 2003 and March 2013. Skin biopsies were performed on the patients to confirm the infection.

The incubation period before skin lesions appeared ranged from 11 days to 56 days. Antibiotic treatment was effective in all the patients, but it took an average of 161 days from when they first saw a doctor to when they began treatment, according to the findings that were to be presented Saturday at IDWeek 2013, the infectious diseases society conference in San Francisco.

"Mycobacterium marinum is not a life-threatening illness, but it remains an unrecognized cause of skin infection," Alangaden said in the news release. "To accelerate diagnosis and treatment, physicians are encouraged to ask detailed questions about the patient's history, especially questions about potential exposure to aquariums."

The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The New Zealand Dermatological Society has more about Mycobacterium marinum and related infections.

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