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What is Sporotrichosis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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Sporotrichosis is a fungal infection which most commonly appears in the skin, although it can spread to other parts of the body. This fungal infection is not usually harmful, but it does require medical attention, because it is difficult to resolve without antifungal medications, and there is some risk that it could spread. For immunocompromised patients in particular, sporotrichosis can be very serious.

The infection is caused by exposure to Sporothric schenckii, a fungus which lives in rotting vegetable matter, mosses, and soils. Because they are occupationally exposed, nursery workers and agricultural workers tend to develop sporotrichosis more than other people, and the condition is sometimes known as sphagnum moss or rose gardener's disease in a reference to two common modes of transmission. People can also develop the infection by being in contact with infected individuals who are shedding fungal spores.

This condition usually presents as a series of small nodules on the skin which become inflamed and burst, creating ulcerations which may be bordered with white to red crusts. The ulcerations are slow to heal, and they tend to spread. The open ulcerations may also lead to opportunistic infections, which can create strong-smelling pus around the wounds. In some cases, the fungus can grow in the lungs, joints, and spinal cord, causing symptoms such as difficulty breathing, joint pain, and lack of motor control.

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A doctor can diagnose sporotrichosis with a patient interview and a swab of an open ulcer which can be cultured to check for the fungus which causes the infection. If a doctor fears that a patient has pulmonary sporotrichosis or infection elsewhere in the body, the doctor may start treatment with antifungals immediately, rather than waiting for culture results. Otherwise, the doctor will wait to confirm sporotrichosis and prescribe an appropriate antifungal medication. The patient will also need to keep the ulcerated sites clean and as dry as possible to reduce the risk of spreading the infection or of developing a secondary infection.

For severe cases of sporotrichosis, it may be necessary to perform surgery to remove infected tissue, especially if the fungus has colonized the lungs. It is important to complete the antifungal regimen prescribed to treat sporotrichosis, to confirm that all of the fungus is killed off so that the infection will not recur as soon as the patient stops taking the medication. Individuals with sporotrichosis infection should also avoid contact with immunocompromised people, the elderly, and young children, as they are at increased risk of developing complications if they become infected.

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