Fishing in BC

News & Events

Fish Handler’s Disease

Having to handle and clean any fish or prepare bait is a welcome part of the fishing season but there can be some serious skin and health issues that you should keep in mind.

Fish Handler’s Disease – have you ever heard of it? Have you experienced small red lesions on your hands, joints, wrist, and or your lower arms? Have these caused you discomfort and stiff joints. Have you visited your Doctor and were prescribed an antibiotic, but are still plagued with this issue?

If so, you may have acquired Fish Handlers Disease – FHD, but not to worry you will survive…

What is FHD?
If you are a person whom enjoys sport fishing, or are employed in the sport or commercial fishing industry, or exposed to aquatic fish tanks, you may be susceptible to bacteria identified as Mycobacterium Marinum. This bacterium is treatable, and is a common ailment in individuals whom engage in either saltwater or freshwater activities. However, if left untreated or miss-diagnosed, an infection can lead to serious complications.

The Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms vary person to person, and in some cases, may be overlooked or initially ignored by the person experiencing the problem. The point of entry for the bacteria is a break in the skin, usually on the hands, which leads to a raised bluish spot which tends to increase in size each day. Untreated, it can lead to inflammation to the surrounding tissues, joints, or tendons, causing symptoms like arthritic or tendonitis pain. The bacteria grow slowly and may take 2 to 4 weeks to develop into a lesion.  In some cases, this heals or disappears into nothing and is brushed off as something minor.  But, please beware, as it can still effect joints or tendons.

What should you do?
First be proactive; consider wearing water-proof gloves at all times when you are exposed to fishy water or are handling fish. If you are experiencing symptoms you need to seek medical attention. And, because many doctors may not have encountered FHD, you should raise the possibility of FHD and Mycobaterium Marinum.  If untreated or miss-diagnosed, FHD can lead to long term antibiotic therapy or even surgical procedures.

If you are looking for further info on FHD please follow this link: Fish Handler’s Disease

Thank you to Dr. Neilson McLean, MD, Executive Air Ambulance Services, for providing this information.

Sign up for our newsletter: