An environmental pathogen, Mycobacterium marinum can cause cutaneous infection when traumatized skin is exposed to fresh, brackish, or salt water. Fishing, aquarium cleaning, and aquatic recreational activities are risk factors for infection.1,2 Diagnosis often is delayed and is made several weeks or even months after initial symptoms appear.3 Due to the protracted clinical course, patients may not recall the initial exposure, contributing to the delay in diagnosis and initiation of appropriate treatment. It is not uncommon for patients with M marinum infection to be initially treated with antibiotics or antifungal drugs.
We present a review of 5 patients who were diagnosed with M marinum infection at our institution between January 2003 and March 2013.
This study was conducted at Henry Ford Hospital, a 900-bed tertiary care center in Detroit, Michigan. Patients who had cultures positive for M marinum between January 2003 and March 2013 were identified using the institution’s laboratory database. Medical records were reviewed, and relevant demographic, epidemiologic, and clinical data, including initial clinical presentation, alternative diagnoses, time between initial presentation and definitive diagnosis, and specific treatment, were recorded.
We identified 5 patients who were diagnosed with culture-confirmed M marinum skin infections during the study period: 3 men and 2 women aged 43 to 72 years (Table 1). Two patients had diabetes mellitus and 1 had hepatitis C virus. None had classic immunosuppression. On repeated questioning after the diagnosis was established, all 5 patients reported that they kept a home aquarium, and all recalled mild trauma to the hand prior to the onset of symptoms; however, none of the patients initially linked the minor skin injury to the subsequent infection.
All 5 patients initially presented with erythema and swelling at the site of the injury, which evolved into inflammatory nodules that progressed proximally up to the arm despite empiric treatment with antibiotics active against streptococci and staphylococci (Figures 1 and 2). Three patients also received empiric antifungal therapy due to suspicion of sporotrichosis.
Skin biopsies were performed on 4 patients, and incision and drainage of purulent material was performed on the fifth patient. Histopathologic examination revealed granulomatous inflammation in 3 patients. Stains for acid-fast bacilli were positive in all 5 patients. Definitive diagnosis of the organism was confirmed by growth of M marinum within 11 to 40 days from the tissue in 4 patients and purulent material in the fifth patient. Susceptibility testing was performed on only 1 of the 5 isolates and showed that the organism was susceptible to amikacin, clarithromycin, doxycycline, ethambutol, rifampin, and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX).
The mean time from initial presentation to initiation of appropriate therapy for M marinum infection was 91 days (range, 21–245 days). Several different treatment regimens were used. All patients received either doxycycline or minocycline with or without a macrolide. Two also received other agents (TMP-SMX or ethambutol). Treatment duration varied from 2 to 6 months in 4 patients, and all 4 had complete resolution of the lesions; 1 patient was lost to follow-up.