Public aquarium sued after child contracts disease

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A public aquarium in the US is being sued after a child contracted a skin infection from the touch pool.

The boy contracted 'fish-handlers disease' after petting sharks and stingrays in the touch pool of Chattanooga’s Tennessee Aquarium.

The bacterial disease is caused when cuts or scrapes on skin become infected with the bacteria Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae. The child’s parents say that the symptoms appeared within six days of him visiting the aquarium.

As a consequence, the boy suffered extreme pain in his hand, had treatment at two hospitals before undergoing a series of surgeries over a period of 11 days at a children’s hospital.

The parents Christopher and Catherine Callaghan are now filing a federal lawsuit worth $2.4 million.

However, spokesman Thom Benson said that aquarium officials do not believe the aquarium was responsible for the boy’s condition. He said five tests taken from the water, substrate and fish after the boy’s November visit showed no trace of the bacteria.

They added: "To our knowledge, no aquarium staff, volunteers or any of the nearly 19 million visitors have ever developed this bacterial infection."

Although fish-handler’s disease can also be contracted by coming into contact with infected soil, birds, cats, dogs, pigs and cows and is usually treated with antibiotics, the lawsuit claims that the aquarium should be held responsible because it has 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."

The aquarium’s lawyers have until July 18 to officially respond to the claims.

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