In a viral video that spread this week, a sea lion was seen grabbing a girl's dress with its teeth and pulling her into the waters from a dock in British Columbia, Canada, where she was standing with her family.
The 6-year-old's grandfather was fortunately quick enough to pull the child into safety albeit the child received a superficial wound measuring 5 centimeters by 10 centimeters on her lower body during the ordeal.
The family rushed the child to a hospital immediately after she was taken out of the water. The girl was also prescribed antibiotics, as experts warned she could be at risk of a rare infection known as seal finger.
The infection can happen when bacteria from the mouth of a sea mammal make their way into a person's skin via a cut, such as in the case of the girl's wounds.
Mycoplasma bacteria that live in the mouths of seals and sea lions are known to cause seal finger infection. Exposure to these bacteria via a cut in the skin may lead to cellulitis or soft-tissue infection. If left untreated, a severe infection may result in loss of a finger or limb.
Although the condition predominantly affects the finger, the infection may still happen in other parts of the body, said Daniel Brown, from the University of Florida, who has treated another case of seal finger.
He explained that if a sea mammal bites a person on the leg, it is possible that the infection stays within the leg, or the bacteria may travel through the body and infect other parts of the person's body. Regardless of the location of the infection, though, the condition remains referred to as seal finger.
"That's kind of an 'old time' name, but it is appropriate because wound infection occurs often on the hands of people who have contact with the seals due to seal bites or introduction of seal blood, seal saliva, etc. into pre-existing cuts on the person's hand," Brown said.
Seal Finger Treatment
Treatment of the infection, which also goes by the name spekk finger, can be tricky since the bacteria involved are very small and do not have a cell wall, which is primarily targeted by many antibiotics such as penicillin.
Other types of antibiotics, however, such as tetracycline, can be used for treating a properly diagnosed seal finger infection. Prior to the advent of antibiotics, many seal hunters and those who handle seal pelts or seal meat risk losing their fingers and hands to the infection.
Deana Lancaster of Vancouver Aquarium said that the condition can be painful and potentially debilitating.
"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 said.
It was not clear if the girl has seal finger, but Lancaster said that she still got treatment over safety concerns.