Fish tank (138237)

Although they appear to be harmless, beware of fish tanks and the small pet fish that swim inside them. They may be more hazardous to your health than large barking dogs and persnickety cats. A study recently published in Emerging Infectious Diseases reported that a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella paratyphi B was found in home fish tanks in Australia. The human bacterial infections caught from these tanks resulted in some children having to be hospitalized, but no long-term illnesses or deaths were reported.

Salmonella infections usually cause cramping, vomiting and diarrhea for a few days, but victims often do not seek professional treatment. When they do, antibiotics are rarely prescribed, which is good because scientists are concerned about this particular strain of salmonella due to its resistance to at least five antibiotics.

The virulence of this strain of salmonella made the researchers conclude that contaminated tanks create a public health problem because “12 to 14 percent of Australian households have ornamental fish and as many as 12 million American and 10 million Canadian families own domestic aquariums, together with the young age of most affected patients.”

The researchers did not suggest that families need to dump their fish tanks, but they did recommend that extra precautions be taken when cleaning fish tanks. One of the researchers said the people who clean the tank should wash their hands frequently with soap and water; children should not play with the pebbles or toys inside the tank, or splash in the water; and no one should touch the fish.

The Canadian health ministry published a booklet that recommends replacing one-third of the tank’s water twice a month and filtering it properly. The aquarium and accessories should not be washed in the kitchen or bathroom sink or bathtub. If they are, all affected surfaces should be disinfected with a solution of four tablespoons of bleach for every liter of lukewarm water, and then rinsed with water.

This information is provided by the Medical Society of the State of New York. For more health-related information and referrals to physicians in your community, contact your county medical society.