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

The disease comes from bacteria that live in the mouths of seals and sea lions

ByABC News
May 24, 2017, 1:23 PM

— -- A girl in Canada who was pulled into a harbor by a sea lion is receiving medical treatment over concerns her broken skin could have been infected by dangerous bacteria from the animal's mouth, according to officials at the Vancouver Aquarium.

A video that has gone viral showed a sea lion grabbing the young girl's dress and pulling her into the water. The girl, along with a man who jumped in to help her, were quickly pulled to safety. But marine life experts warned they could be at risk of getting a rare infection sometimes called seal finger.

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 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 soft-tissue infection, and untreated severe infections can lead to loss of fingers or limbs.

"If any member of our animal care team receives a bite from a seal 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, adding that the condition can be "painful and potentially debilitating."

The infection, also called spekk finger (from "blubber" 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. Before antibiotics, many seal hunters risked losing fingers or hands to the disease.