The Tennessee Aquarium issued a news release Friday acknowledging a lawsuit for damages because of a nasty infection a visiting child received after sticking his hand in a tank, “a touch tank”, where people are encouraged to touch the aquatic life.
The infection, known as “fish-handler’s disease”, sickened a Georgia child, and the parents, Christopher and Catherine Callaghan, filed the complaint saying the aquarium is responsible. The Callaghan’s are seeking $2.4 million in the federal lawsuit.
The Callaghan’s say their son started developing symptoms of the infection caused by the bacterium, Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, within six days of visiting the aquarium visit.
According to the complaint, over the next few weeks, the child was treated at two hospitals before spending 11 days at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, undergoing multiple surgeries and “excruciating pain throughout his right hand.”
The aquarium says they sympathize with the child’s situation; however, say they don’t believe they are responsible.
A spokesperson for the Chattanooga-based aquarium said testing began at the Aquarium as soon as biologists were notified of the situation. Samples from the exhibit in question were taken from water, substrate and fish. These samples were sent to an independent lab to be analyzed specifically for Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, the bacteria found in the young man’s lesion. They says all five samples were negative.
They go on to say, “To our knowledge, no Aquarium staff, volunteers or any of the nearly 19 million visitors have ever developed this bacterial infection.”
Known as “fish-handler’s disease”, Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae is a bacteria that is widely distributed in nature. It is found in a variety of animals, mainly swine and cattle, and also fish, birds and other wild and domestic animals. It usually affects people who work with these animals (such as farmers or butchers).
In humans, E. rhusiopathiae may cause a mild, localized cutaneous infection, or less frequently, a systemic infection with septicemia.
In the cutaneous infection, called an erysipeloid, is typically found on the fingers or hand. Localized pain, swelling and a purplish erythema develops which may spread to the wrist or forearm.
Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae can generally be treated with penicillin, imipenem, cefotaxime and ciprofloxacin antibiotics.
According to the timesfreepress, the complaint asks the federal court to hold the aquarium responsible for the infection because it allows an open exhibit that “allowed patrons to touch aquatic animals” and the aquarium staff “knew that these animals carried the (bacteria) and failed to warn their invitees.”
Attorneys for the aquarium have until July 18 to file a response to the complaint.