Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fiendish Fungus, aka Sporotrichosis

He that sows thorns should never go barefoot.  ~ Benjamin Franklin

Are you a gardener? Do you work with or around roses or pyracantha? Perhaps you handle hay while working on a farm or with horses? Maybe you mix up your own potting soil or make hypertufa pots, using sphagnum moss? Do you scratch about in the soil as you plant your favorite new nursery finds? Or perhaps you enjoy turning that compost heap?

If you answered 'yes' to any of the above, you need to know this. Sporotrichosis schenckii is a fungus that is found on the above items. If you are punctured by a rose thorn or stalk of hay, if you breathe in some of that sphagnum moss as you toss it, if you have an open wound and come into contact with the soil or decaying plants, it is possible for this fungus to invade your body and begin to grow.

Wingthorn Rose,
Rosa sericea ssp omeiensis f. pteracantha

Although it is uncommon, you can develop the fungal disease Sporotrichosis. You may know this as Rose Thorn Disease, Rose Gardener's Disease, Farmer's Disease, Rose Handler's Disease, or Gardener's Disease. While Rosarians may be familiar with this disease, many others are not. This disease can be difficult to diagnose because the fungus can be a deceptive infection. So you need to know the causes (stated above), the symptoms, and treatment.

According to the CDC website, it takes 1 - 12 weeks for symptoms to appear. Without anti-fungal medication, the area will swell, possible rupture, and can even spread to the lymph nodes, and to other parts of the body (in extreme cases, or in those with weakened immune systems). If you breathe in the spores, the symptoms are similar to pneumonia, with shortness of breath, cough, and fever.

I have been a victim of numerous rose thorn punctures over the years, but this year was different. Weeks after the punctures, my hand began to swell. Because some bacterial infections mimic the symptoms of Sporotrichosis, my doctor initially treated me with antibiotics. After 2 courses of them, and with symptoms returning even more pronounced than before, my doctor prescribed anti-fungal medication. I also subsequently saw hand specialist and infectious disease doctors.

Lacking a biopsy at the outset to identify the specific cause, the infectious disease doctor stated that he believes the correct diagnosis was Sporotrichosis based on my symptoms' response to the anti-fungal medication.

It is important to note that if any portion of the infected material remains in the body, no amount of medication will eliminate the infection. As soon as the medication stops, the material will begin to infect the body again, until the object is removed. To rule out the presence of a foreign body, I had an ultrasound done, which confirmed there was no foreign body remaining.

As I write this, I've been on medication almost three months, and my course of treatment isn't yet complete. I will continue to take the medication for an additional 4 weeks following the absence of symptoms. This isn't surprising because, according to the CDC website, the normal course of treatment for Sporotrichosis is 3 to 6 months of anti-fungal medication.

The New York State Department of Health has a fact sheet with suggestions on how to protect against getting Sporotrichosis. They include wearing gloves (I was wearing regular gardening gloves; I now wear thick rose gloves when I'm anywhere near roses), long sleeves, and avoiding direct physical contact with objects that could have the fungus. It's probably overkill, but I've also started wearing a good face mask whenever I work with potting soil.

My current 'rose' of choice,
not a rose at all.

Rose Campion, 
Lychnis coronaria

~Kit Aerie-el

(Disclaimer: I'm not a physician. I composed this information from research and personal experience. I had a physician review the article prior to publishing.)


  1. I hope you're soon all better. Scary disease. I only have two roses which I seldom prune, when I do I always wear thick gloves.

    1. Thanks Alison. Symptoms are finally gone, so one month of meds and I'm done. I will never look at roses the same way again. Glad you take care when pruning yours.

  2. Kit, thank you so much for the information! I've never heard about this fungus. Often, I have some allergy-like reaction while working in the garden. I'll be more careful now, and I'll try to wear gloves always. I'm glad you feel better. Take care!

    1. Thank you Tatyana. I'm out to spread the word about this fungus, so others don't fall victim to it. Good that you are careful around your roses!

  3. This is scary, I certainly hope that your course of medication will help control this in the future...and thank you so much for letting us know about it.


    1. Thank you Jen. One more month of meds and I'm done with this! Forever wearing long, thick rose gloves in the future.


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