Definition of Sporotrichosis
Sporotrichosis is an infection caused by a fungus called Sporothrix schenckii. The fungus lives throughout the world in soil, plants, and decaying vegetation. Cutaneous (skin) infection is the most common form of infection, although pulmonary infection can occur if a person inhales the microscopic, airborne fungal spores. Most cases of sporotrichosis are sporadic and are associated with minor skin trauma like cuts and scrapes; however, outbreaks have been linked to activities that involve handling contaminated vegetation such as moss, hay, or wood.
Causes of Sporotrichosis
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The fungus lives in sphagnum moss, hay, other plant materials, and soil. The fungus can enter the skin through small cuts or punctures from thorns, barbs, pine needles, or wires. In rare cases, inhalation of the fungus can cause pulmonary infection. Sporotrichosis is not spread from person to person; however, a small number of human cases have been caused by scratches or bites from infected animals such as cats.
Who Gets Sporotrichosis?
People who handle thorny plants, sphagnum moss, or bales of hay are at increased risk of getting sporotrichosis. The infection is more common among people with weakened immune systems, but it can also occur in otherwise healthy people. Outbreaks have occurred among florists, plant nursery workers who have handled sphagnum moss, rose gardeners, children who have played on bales of hay, and greenhouse workers who have handled thorns contaminated by the fungus.
Symptoms of Sporotrichosis
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The first symptom is usually a small painless nodule (bump) resembling an insect bite. The first nodule may appear any time from 1 to 12 weeks after exposure to the fungus. The nodule can be red, pink, or purple in color, and it usually appears on the finger, hand, or arm where the fungus has entered through a break in the skin. The nodule will eventually become larger in size and may look like an open sore or ulcer that is very slow to heal. Additional bumps or nodules may appear later near the original lesion.
Most Sporothrix infections only involve the skin. However, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, including the bones, joints, and the central nervous system. Usually, these types of disseminated infections only occur in people with weakened immune systems. In rare cases, a pneumonia-like illness can occur after inhaling Sporothrix spores, which can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, and fever.
If you think you have sporotrichosis, you should see a healthcare provider.
Reviewed on 3/15/2012
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