The Smallest Fish Wounds Can Be Deadly

swollen finger, fish cuts can be deadly, vibrio
At the hospital you can see the small stab wound by the dorsal fin spine.

Wounds from fish, crabs, clams, oysters, fishing gear, etc. are no joke. Seek medical attention immediately. Even exposed existing cuts can be deadly. This is not as uncommon as people think and seems to be occurring more each year.


A few days ago a friend of mine messaged me …
Patrick … “
Wife was cleaning red snapper at work. Figured you would know, should she worry? Finger is swollen. Happened 9 hours ago. She was stuck by the dorsal I believe. ”
Me … GO> TO> THE> HOSPITAL> NOW!
Patrick … “
That Bad? Shes a chef at a 5 star here in DC, they ordered it de-scaled and supplier didn’t send descaled, so she cleaned it herself and got stabbed by the dorsal fin spine in her finger.”
Me …. Go To The Hospital. I am dead serious.


This was all in Facebook messenger, I didn’t have the time to convey that I have seen cuts like this kill someone in under 24 hours in the past. Better to go to the hospital and find out it is not a big deal, then to go 10 hours later and all they can do is make you comfortable as you waste away and die.

Removing the Dorsal spine form her finger … photo from Patrick

Patrick … “Turned out to be a big deal. Sent her to urgent care, took xray, they sent her to ER immediately. ER could not remove the dorsal tip. Plastic surgeon said to wait, take antibiotics, see if it comes out. If it doesn’t heal or begins to get infected they will need to do actual surgery to get it out ”
Me … I am glad you guys went and had this checked out, sounds like it could have been really bad had you waited or not gone at all.

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Fish market delivered the full red snapper that were only gutted, so instead if sending it back she decided to descale the batch of 10 herself, then fillet them. First one, first slice up the fish, bam. Stick. Owe! Ran under cold water, put some salt on it, it just bleeding, tiny puncture wound. 10 hours later it was swelling and stiff. Tried to pinch the fluid out but little progress. It looked halfway decent at bedtime so decided to wait. Next morning it looked like this.

Getting a cut on your finger and bacteria from a a fish can be just as bad. Bill Dorey the other day had swollen fingers just hours after fishing so he went to the hospital and they treated him for vibrio just to be safe. Bill … “I was in the Delaware Bay that day but I was all over , water temp was 68 so I really didn’t think that it could be vibrio but Doctor didn’t want to take any chances. I did not poke or cut my hands but I did have cuts on my hands. It is messed up I’ll be the only one out there with rubber gloves on now fishing ”

Be careful if you have cuts on your body and expose it to the water. Just because it is saltwater doesn’t mean it is always cleansing. The inland bays are notorious for bacteria in the dead of summer. There is a 24/7 swim advisory for the inland bays in the summer and even the off season. Despite the fact the outfall pipe was removed from the Lewes canal.

Be careful cleaning fish, obviously from that story, but also from another back a few years ago, Wounds From Fish Can Be Deadly. An older man nicked his hand cleaning a trigger fish and the infection killed him in less than thirty six hours. Another gentlemen a couple of years ago scratched his leg on a crab pot and the infection killed him in under two days.

Many charter captains will keep bleach on board to put directly on any fishing related wounds. It is not the best solution but it is better than nothing. Bleach is also used to clean up after you are done shucking clams for drum fishing. These clams are not edible clams, usually they come from the bad bacteria zones in bays around the East coast.

It is better to go to the doctor and find out it is no big deal. Sometimes minutes can mean the difference between life and death. The women in the above story wasn’t fishing, just cleaning fish at work, many miles from the waterways.

Fish On!
Rich King


(Sept 2015) Dialogue from the Facebook post … “My friend’s grandfather was gutting a trigger fish in OCMD and cut his finger. He went to the hospital, was given an oral antibiotic and discharged. Overnight he developed a high fever and his hand looks like this now. They are admitting him and infectious disease specialists are on their way to examine him. They are pumping him with two different types of antibiotics and will be operating later today. They are going to peel back his skin and “scrape it off” from underneath. It has spread to his shoulder so now they are transferring him to an ICU. His kidneys have shut down and his heart is starting to go. They operated on his arm and the muscle had already started to deteriorate and they couldn’t stop it from spreading despite the fact he had an IV of cipro. He was 78, but healthy, no diabetes or anything. The worst part about this is he went right away to the hospital and it still got him.”

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