A goldfish holding a caution sign.

Is It Dangerous to Have a Pet Fish If You Have Psoriasis?

My wife joined a running club recently, and one of the leaders was talking about infusions she had that day. Since my wife is surrounded by immune diseases in her work and personal life, her ears perked up. She paced with this woman and found out she had an autoimmune disease.

They chatted about it during their run (show-offs: being able to talk and run!) The women casually remarked that she couldn’t have a pet fish because they have the potential to carry tuberculosis (TB). TB would be detrimental to her current biologic medication. My wife had never heard of this, and being a serious worrywart relayed the information to me. I was not so worried about it, but it did pique my interest, so I took to doing some research.

A fishy situation

I’ll be straight with you from the get-go. It's not as bad as you think, but fish can actually contract some diseases that are risky to those with psoriasis. Human TB results from mycobacterium tuberculosis while fish TB results from mycobacterium marinum.

To save me some typing, we will just call the latter, fish TB.

Fish TB was first recorded being passed to humans in 1962 and today about half the cases in humans are tied to fish or fish handling. The bacteria grows really slow, so often time diagnosis is delayed and misdiagnosed (sound familiar?) Once it starts to rear its head, it looks like a nodule growing where it first entered the skin. The nodule turns purple and becomes super painful. If it gets into the lymph system, it can even spread up your arms or legs. The extra weird thing is that once it is in the skin and in some cases, it can cause arthritis symptoms.

Is having a pet fish dangerous to psoriasis?

If you already have pretty bad plaques and psoriatic arthritis, it’s easy to see how this can be easily overlooked or mistaken for something else. The good news is that it is treatable with antibiotics and the chances of actually contracting it from a fish are extremely rare.

Upon my searching, I also found there is another bacterial infection that can come from fish called streptococcus iniae, which is associated with bacterial cellulitis. This one caught my attention. The CDC warns that although it is rare, it can be contracted through open wounds or scrapes in the skin and can be serious in those with weakened immune systems.

Protect your scales against scales

Since part of having psoriasis is being susceptible to open cracks and wounds in the skin, it’s important to protect yourself when being around any animal or bacteria-carrying body of water. We shouldn’t let psoriasis keep us from doing things. Instead, take these precautions when handling fish or fishy water:

  • Wear gloves
  • Wash your hands before and after putting on the gloves
  • Never drink water that fish have lived in (should be mentioned)
  • Don’t take up a career as a mermaid

I was relieved getting my kids a beta fish wouldn’t put me at risk for the scary human TB that impacts the lungs, but it still was a good reminder that I have to be extra cautious with anything that contacts my fragile skin.

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