A fungus among us - on us, on our pet patients, on our human clients...
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. (Though the location of my last episode imparted the distinct impression that it might in fact be a herpes blister. Pretty.)
And guess what? I have a new one to show off. This one’s smack in the middle of the apple of my cheek (I guess I scratch my face at work more than I should, in spite of the fifty-plus hand-washings a day).
Thankfully, this one’s responded more readily to my ministrations. It’s almost completely gone only a couple of weeks after it appeared. After the last experience I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance—I attacked it as if I’d diagnosed myself with skin cancer. Dermal blight begone!
I had no idea where I’d gotten this nasty thing. Was it the teacup kittens I’ve 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.
On Saturday (the morning from Hell) I finally identified the culprit. It was the blind kitten who—incidentally—can now see. He’s 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 now.
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.
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 have super-powers. Furthermore, my dermatologist informed me last week that animal originating ringworm infections have more oomph than the soil-related version avid gardeners will sometimes contract. They have more staying power, hence the need to use oral drugs to combat their effects before they get their sea legs deep into your skin.
What could I do? After explaining we’d have to re-culture his kitten’s skin and dip him with a Lym-sulfur solution pending the results, I referred him to his doctor—immediately! He asked for a remedy. As much as I wanted to help, veterinarians are bound by a strict legal code to refrain from doing so. But ethically? I could not let this man walk out the door without telling him that more than likely they were fungal lesions but that I could do nothing about them.
If they were on me, I went on to explain, I’d take myself to the emergency room. Short of that, I’d buy some athlete’s foot medication. But I emphasized that I wasn’t recommending he do so—under no circumstances would I make a human recommendation, I’d reiterated.
Yesterday (Sunday) he’d left me three urgent messages describing his elderly mother’s similar lesions. I begged him to ask a physician. Please! You both need medical attention! What else could I say?
No doubt about it. Hell hath no fury like a Saturday morning in a vet hospital.