A fungus among us (and on our pets)
A couple of years ago I spent a series of months battling a disease that left me slightly disfigured (and itchy beyond belief).
It started as a rough, red patch of skin on the lower half of my face—right next to my mouth, no less. As it evolved past Halloween and refused to heal even into the new year, somewhere along the way (around Thanksgiving) it became clear I’d been suffering the wrath of a fungus among us.
Ah … the dreaded ringworm infection. So attractive. Nothing says "pariah" as effectively as this simple fungal disease’s manifestation. When the indistinct, itchy splotch gives way to a shiny, pink circle rimmed with a slight crust of infected skin, there’s almost nothing else it could be ... hence the misnomer-ish name (not because the worm is ring shaped).
I had no idea where I’d gotten the nasty thing. Was it the teacup kittens I’d been treating? But I’d been so careful with them, scrubbing my hands raw afterwards with chlorhexidine and rinsing under my short-short nails with a miconazole solution to ward off the evil. It must have been someone else.
Eventually I'd finally identified the culprit. A kitten. He’d been something of an ongoing charity case with all his persistent eye issues, indefatigable mange infestation and chronic flea magnetism. Add to that mix a fungal infection, which I’d initially suspected and tested for, but whose diagnosis had defeated me—until then.
How'd we ever figure it out? His owner’s arms and neck were covered with shocking ringworm lesions he’d attributed to overzealous mosquitoes. So much for ease of self-diagnosis. There were huge, angry, obvious fungal colonies just bursting with health.
Just so you know, some of us are more susceptible to these fungal infections than others. And not all dermatophytes, as this life form is known, are created equal. I’m convinced that some might even have super-powers. Furthermore, my dermatologist informed me that animal-originating ringworm infections have more oomph than the soil-related version avid gardeners sometimes contract. They have more staying power too, hence the need to use oral drugs to combat their effects before they get their sea legs too deep into your skin.
What could I do? After explaining to the kitten's owner that we’d have to re-culture his kitten’s skin and then dip him (the kitten) with a Lym-sulfur solution pending the results, I referred him to his personal doctor - to be seen immediately! Instead, he asked me for a remedy.
As much as I always wish I could help in cases like this, I can't. Veterinarians are bound by a strict legal code that imposes restraints from doing so. But ethically? I could not let this man walk out of my office without giving him some idea what to do ... not on a Saturday morning, anyway.
If they were on me, I explained, I’d take myself to the emergency room. Short of that, I’d buy some athlete’s foot medication and apply it (for temporary relief). But I emphasized that I wasn’t recommending he do so — and I reiterated that under no circumstances would I make a human recommendation.
No doubt about it. Hell hath no fury like a fungus among us.
Dr. Patty Khuly
Image: Tinea corporis / via Mycology Online