Girl pulled into harbor by sea lion treated for rare ‘seal finger’ disease

(VANCOUVER, British Columbia) — A girl who was pulled into a Canada harbor by a sea lion is receiving medical treatment over concerns her broken skin could have been infected by a dangerous bacteria from the animal’s mouth, according to officials at the Vancouver aquarium.

A video that has gone viral showed the young girl pulled into the water after a sea lion grabbed her white dress. The girl, along with a man who jumped into help her, were quickly pulled to safety. But marine life experts warned they could have been exposed to a rare infection sometimes called “seal finger” from the encounter.

The family contacted the Vancouver Aquarium for help, after one of the facility’s mammal trainers spoke about the condition during several interviews over the weekend, according to aquarium spokeswoman Deana Lancaster

“The family saw the media reports and got in touch with us. She did get a superficial wound and she’s going to get the right treatment,” Lancaster told ABC News.

Seal finger infections are caused by different kinds of Mycoplasma bacteria, which live naturally in the mouths of sea mammals like seals and sea lions, according to a 2009 published case report. Exposure via a cut in the skin can often result in cellulitis or a soft-tissue infection and untreated infections that become severe can lead to loss of fingers or limbs.

“If any member of our animal care team receives a bite from a sea or sea lion, they take a letter from our vet with them to the hospital, which explains that the infection is resistant to some antibiotics,” Lancaster told ABC News, explaining the condition can be “painful and potentially debilitating.”

The infection which has also been called “spekk-finger,” which means blubber-finger in Norwegian, can be tricky to treat. Mycoplasma bacteria are the smallest form of bacteria and do not have a cell wall, which is the primary target for many antibiotics like penicillin.

Other types of antibiotics, including tetracycline, can be used to treat the infection if it is diagnosed properly. Prior to antibiotic treatment, many seal hunters would risk losing fingers or hands to the disease.

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