Burn Victims and the Alternative of Tilapia Skin Treatment

Doctors in Brazil have begun testing tilapia skin as an alternative bandage for second and third degree burns. The article made news early last year, although I will admit I just learned about this while watching The Good Doctor, (a show I am in love with at the present time). Were it not for the fact that the treatment has already helped burn victims in real life, such as the man in the STAT News article video, it would sound very far-fetched as a feasible treatment. Make sure to watch it, it is a very moving sight.

Antônio dos Santos, a Brazilian fisherman and burn victim, undergoing tilapia skin treatment. Image Source: PBS NewsHour
Antônio dos Santos, a Brazilian fisherman and burn victim, undergoing tilapia skin treatment. Image Source: PBS NewsHour

Skin banks are very limited in Brazil, so they usually need to resort to treating burn victims with gauze and silver sulfadiazine cream. The gauze treatment does not really help in the healing process, though, merely keeping the wounds from getting infected. The gauzes also make for a horribly painful experience since they need to be changed on a daily basis, and patients need to be under a lot of medication. Meanwhile, tilapia skins—which are thoroughly sterilized and don’t smell like fish anymore, it’s actually not as horrifying as it sounds—not only help reduce the healing time and diminish the use of pain medication, but they are also changed so rarely that they typically don’t need to be changed until final removal at the very end of treatment. Tilapia is the most cultured fish in Brazil, with the skin being typically discarded by fish farms. Thanks to this, it would be a readily-available resource for burn units throughout the country. I think it makes it even more fascinating the fact that the man in the video, who undergoes the tilapia skin treatment, is a fisherman himself.

“Can tilapia skin be used to bandage burns?” on STAT News:
https://www.statnews.com/2017/03/02/brazil-tilapia-skin-burns/

Tilapia Cabrae. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Tilapia Cabrae. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Disclaimer: I couldn’t actually verify that the Tilapia Cabrae is a species cultured in Brazil, but! The Nile Tilapia pictured below is indeed cultured today in Brazil, having being introduced from Africa.

Nile Tilapia. Cichlid fish native to Africa that was introduced in Brazil. Source: Wikipedia.org
Nile Tilapia. Cichlid fish native to Africa that was introduced in Brazil. Source: Wikipedia.org

References

[1] “Can tilapia skin be used to bandage burns?” by Nadia Sussman at STAT News, 2 March 2017. https://www.statnews.com/2017/03/02/brazil-tilapia-skin-burns/
[2] “Nile Tilapia” Wikipedia article. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nile_tilapia
[3] “An overview of An overview of tilapia culture in Brazil” by Fernando Kubitza, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at The University of Arizona. https://cals.arizona.edu/azaqua/ista/ista6/ista6web/presentation/p709.pdf
[4] “Seafood Industry in Brazil” by Rebeca Duran at The Brazil Business. 14 February 2014. http://thebrazilbusiness.com/article/seafood-industry-in-brazil

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