Last Reviewed: November 2011

What is sporotrichosis?

Sporotrichosis is a fungal infection, usually of the skin, caused by a microscopic fungus called Sporothrix schenckii.

Who gets sporotrichosis?

Anyone can get the disease but people handling thorny plants, sphagnum moss or baled hay contaminated with this particular fungus are at increased risk. Outbreaks have occurred among garden nursery workers handling sphagnum moss, rose gardeners, children playing on baled hay and greenhouse workers handling thorns contaminated by the fungus.

How is the fungus spread?

The fungus enters through small cuts or pricks from pine needles, thorns or barbs. It can also be inhaled and cause lung infections. It is not spread from person to person.

What are the symptoms of sporotrichosis?

The first symptom is a small pink, red or purple painless bump resembling an insect bite. The bump, or lesion, usually appears on the finger, hand or arm where the fungus first entered through a break in the skin. This is followed by the appearance of one or more additional raised bumps or nodules that open and may resemble a boil. Eventually, the skin lesions look like ulcers and are very slow to heal. Rarely, pneumonia can occur as a result of inhalation of fungal spores, and can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough and fever. The infection can spread to other parts of the body, including bones and joints and the central nervous system.

How soon after exposure do symptoms appear?

The skin lesions may appear 1 to 12 weeks after exposure but usually within three weeks.

How is sporotrichosis diagnosed?

Sporotrichosis can be confirmed when a doctor obtains a swab of a freshly opened skin nodule and submits it to a laboratory for fungal culture. The diagnosis can also be verified by a blood or biopsy specimen. It is important for the diagnosis to be confirmed by a doctor so that proper treatment can be provided.

What is the treatment for sporotrichosis?

Itraconazole is the preferred treatment for sporotrichosis. Some forms of the disease can also be treated with iodides taken orally in droplet form. All treatments must be prescribed by a doctor. Treatment is often extended over a number of weeks.

What are the complications associated with sporotrichosis?

The vast majority of the infections are limited to the skin. Cases of joint, lung and central nervous system infection have occurred but are very rare and usually occur only in people with diabetes or other disorders of the immune system.

How can sporotrichosis be prevented?

Control measures include wearing gloves and long sleeves when handling pine seedlings, rose bushes, hay bales or other plants that may cause minor skin breaks. It is also advisable to avoid skin contact with sphagnum moss. Moss has been implicated as a source of the fungus in a number of outbreaks.