M. marinum bacteria exposure comes via water
Dear Dr. Roach: I read your recent column about “flesh-eating bacteria.” Is it in any way related to Mycobacterium marinum?
My son is having multiple surgeries due to this, which finally and correctly was diagnosed after many weeks. It came on slowly over months, and has caused his hand to swell up greatly. He remembered that he did get a cut on his hand while fixing a home water line that was in soil. He was told it is rare, but it occurs all over this country. There is a creek near us, and recently a local newspaper announced there was a “life-threatening” bacteria discovered in that creek, which empties into a local waterway. His treatment was intravenous continuously for over a week, and now three strong antibiotics to be taken for at least a year. Meanwhile, he continues with some surgery. — N.F.
Answer: Mycobacterium marinum is a bacteria species closely related to tuberculosis. It is not related to the type of “flesh-eating” bacteria you read about periodically in the newspaper; those are group A streptococcus, which grows very rapidly (people can go from appearing well to being dead in hours) and needs immediate identification and surgery to treat; M. marinum grows slowly. It is uniquely related to water exposure, especially from fish tanks (fresh and saltwater). However, it has been reported after exposure to oysters and fish spines, and occasionally in swimming pools.
Treatment for M. marinum usually includes two or more antibiotics taken for months. Your son’s infection is worse than I have heard of, requiring surgery and antibiotics lasting more than a year.
I looked up your local creek: It is contaminated by fecal bacteria (presumably from untreated sewage), not by M. marinum. I hope your son does well.
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