Health department warns of Chinatown seafood skin infection

Stacey Sager reports from Chinatown
April 7, 2014 1:37:19 PM PDT
The New York City Department of Health is warning patrons of seafood markets in Chinatowns about possible skin infections from handling live or raw fish.

On Main Street in Flushing at a Chinese market, the majority of people handling the raw and live fish were using gloves, but not everyone was and certainly not all the customers.

"I buy, I touch, my hands, yeah," said Lily Shaakhbazyan, a seafood customer.

The New York City Health Department put out a warning because a new, and unusual outbreak of a bacterial skin infection known as Mycobacterium marinum (M. marinum).

It starts with tender, red bumps that don't respond to normal antibiotics.

They become bigger, and can lead to deeper infection in muscles and tendons.

Health officials tell Eyewitness News that so far, Chinese markets in Flushing, Queens, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and in Lower Manhattan have all triggered cases.

But the question is why?

"Is it a specific type of fish or seafood? Or, is it rather specific practices in some or all markets, that are putting people at risk?" said Dr. Jay Varma, NYC Health Department.

Health officials do say they've seen at least 30 cases, but they suspect there are more.


People at the market were stunned when Eyewitness News showed them the photos.

"Oh my God, you have to be careful," said Ruth Valery, a shopper.

Awareness is the key.

"Most doctors probably have never heard of it, which is actually one of the reasons we're trying to educate both the public and health care community about it," Dr. Varma said.

Symptoms of M. marinum include red, tender swelling under the skin of the hands and arms, hand or arm pain and difficulty moving fingers. People are encouraged to wear waterproof gloves in their home when preparing live or raw fish or seafood that came from a market in Chinatown, especially if they have cuts or abrasions.

Employees of seafood markets and restaurants that purchase food from these markets also are urged to wear waterproof gloves. There is no risk associated with consuming the food from these markets.

If you show any symptoms or believe you are at risk, please see a dermatologist or infectious disease physician and explain that you think you may have a skin infection (M. marinum) that occurs after contact with live or raw fish or seafood. It is important to begin antibiotic treatment early.

If left untreated, M. marinum can evolve over weeks and months into more serious infections that require surgical treatment. You also can call the Health Department's Bureau of Communicable Disease at 347-396-2600 and ask to speak to a physician.