New fish bacteria named after Hong Kong

New streptococcus strain, found by HKU scientists probing infection, named after the city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2012, 4:55am

Hong Kong has earned another accolade, with a new bacteria named after the city.

Streptococcus hongkongensis was discovered when a worker at one of the city's fish stalls cut his thumb on a fish fin.

The 44-year-old man did not seek treatment for his wound, until after a month when the swelling still had not gone down and it was festering. He then went to Queen Mary's Hospital, where doctors removed a tiny piece of fin from his thumb.

Laboratory tests carried out as standard procedure showed this was no ordinary infection.

That was two years ago. Since then investigations by researchers from the University of Hong Kong have uncovered a new strain of bacteria, which now appears to be fairly common among certain marine fish, where it survives on the skin surface of freshly caught specimens.

Microbiologist Susanna Lau Kar-pui, who is a clinical associate professor at HKU, advised fish sellers and workers to wear protective gloves when handling their fish to avoid any cuts getting infected.

"It [the bacteria] only causes mild infection," said Lau. "There is no need for the public to be overly worried, as they will not be infected by eating fish."

The patient was treated with antibiotics and made a full recovery within two months.

The university tested 101 fresh fish samples and found two - a three-lined tongue sole and an olive flounder - had the same strain of streptococcus.

"It is not very rare. I believe the bacteria can be commonly found in certain species of marine fish," Lau said.

Other bacteria in the streptococcus family commonly found in fish can cause serious complications, such as septic shock.

The discovery of the new bacteria was published last week in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.