What is sporotrichosis?

Sporotrichosis is a rare type of fungal infection that can occur in both humans and animals. Also nicknamed “rose handler’s disease,” the fungus can be found in certain plants and their surrounding soil. Sporotrichosis mostly affects people who work with these products, such as:

  • farmers
  • florists
  • gardeners
  • those who work at plant nurseries
  • those who handle bales of hay
  • carpenters

While rare and usually not life-threatening, this type of fungal infection can lead to serious complications.

The symptoms of sporotrichosis often start off mild within the first several weeks of exposure. You’ll experience a small bump that can be red, pink, or purple. This bump appears at the site of exposure, usually on your arm or hand, and may or may not be painful to the touch. It can take 1 to 12 weeks before sporotrichosis shows any symptoms.

As the infection progresses, the bump can turn into an ulcer. You may have a severe rash surrounding the affected area, as well as new bumps that surface. Sometimes the rash can affect your eyes, and even cause conjunctivitis (commonly called pink eye).

Sporotrichosis is caused by the Sporothrix fungus. This type of fungus is prevalent in all parts of the world, but it may be more common in Central and South America. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fungus may be found in rose bushes, hay, and moss. If you handle any of these plants or their surrounding soil on a regular basis, you could be at risk for exposure to the fungus. Still, exposure doesn’t automatically mean you’ll develop a fungal infection.

Cutaneous sporotrichosis

Having an open cut or wound on your skin can put you at risk for cutaneous sporotrichosis.This means that the fungus enters your skin. Some people become infected after getting cut by a plant containing the fungus — this is why rose thorns are noteworthy culprits of possible sporotrichosis.

Pulmonary sporotrichosis

Rarely, the fungus can enter your lungs after you breathe in spores from the air. This subtype is called pulmonary sporotrichosis. It may cause breathing difficulties, chest pain, cough, fever, fatigue, and unintentional weight loss.

Sporotrichosis can also be spread to humans from infected animals (especially cats) through scratches and bites. However, it isn’t spread between people. According to BMJ Case Reports, the highest rates of infection tend to occur in people between the ages of 16 and 30.

To properly diagnose sporotrichosis, you’ll need to see your doctor for testing. They will take a skin sample called a biopsy, and then submit it to the lab. If your doctor suspects pulmonary sporotrichosis, they may order a blood test. Sometimes blood tests can also help diagnose severe forms of cutaneous sporotrichosis.

Getting the right treatment depends on the results of these tests.

Fungal infections like sporotrichosis depend on medical treatments to get rid of the fungus from the body. However, some home treatments can help decrease the spread of the infection. For skin infections, you can make sure that the wound is kept clean and bandaged. This can help prevent any rashes from getting worse. You’ll also want to make sure you avoid scratching the area.

Skin infections from this type of fungus are treated with antifungals, such as oral itraconazole (Sporanox) and supersaturated potassium iodide. These are taken for several months until the infection has fully cleared up.

Severe sporotrichosis may need intravenous (IV) treatments, such as amphotericin B. According to the CDC, you may need to take itraconazole for up to one year after your IV treatments are complete. This helps ensure that the fungus is completely out of your body.

If the infection originated in your lungs, you may need to have surgery. The process involves cutting out infected lung tissue.

Most cases of sporotrichosis aren’t deadly. However, if you don’t treat the infection, you could have the bumps and sores for many years. Some cases can become permanent.

Left untreated, this type of infection can develop into disseminated sporotrichosis. With this condition, the fungal infection spreads to other body parts. Examples include your bones or your central nervous system. You might experience:

  • joint pain
  • severe headaches
  • confusion
  • seizures

A weakened immune system can put you at risk for this type of sporotrichosis, especially if you have HIV.

If you’re pregnant, antifungal medications can harm your baby. Be sure to discuss any possibility of pregnancy with your doctor before taking any antifungals.

Overall, the risk for getting infected by sporotrichosis is rare. According to the CDC, most cases aren’t life-threatening. Still, given the symptoms and potential complications, it’s not worth taking risks when working outdoors.

You can help decrease your risk by always wearing gloves when working with plants and trees. Long sleeves and pants can offer protection too. If you have a wound, be sure it’s bandaged properly and covered with clothing before handling plant matter.