COVER

Now: 'mad fish disease'

September 9 1996
COVER

Now: 'mad fish disease'

September 9 1996

Now: 'mad fish disease'

COVER

Bacteria do not have to become drug resistant to threaten human health— as demonstrated in alarming reports last week of new microbial menaces. After studying recent infection patterns, researchers in Toronto predicted an upsurge this winter of diseases caused by bacteria of the group A streptococcus family. These bacteria have not yet become significantly drug resistant. But they can cause virulent infections ranging from strep

throat to toxic shock and necrotizing fasciitis, the so-called flesh-eating disease that cost Quebec’s Lucien Bouchard a leg in 1994. Dr. Donald Low, head of microbiology at two Toronto hospitals, said that the upsurge probably involves a new strain of strep bacteria, and would likely be felt in most parts of Canada.

Meanwhile, eight Torontonians have been afflicted since December with skin infections— and, in one case, meningitis— from a bug called streptococcus

iniae that lives in fish. Low, who helped investigate the outbreak, said there were major outbreaks of strep iniae in American, Israeli and Taiwanese fish farms during the 1980s. But the Toronto cases are the first in which humans are known to have become infected. All eight

victims-who respond ed to treatment with antibiotics-had appar ently cut themselves with knives, or with fish fins or bones, while preparing tilapia, a freshwater fish import ed from the United

States. Low said that the iniae bug can cause "mad fish dis ease," in which the creatures' eyes bulge and their swimming becomes erratic before they die. But human infection is easily preventable, he added, by wearing protective gloves when preparing the fish.