The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 12

Q: What is Silicosis or Sporotrichosis?

A: Silicosis is a disease which is caused by inhaling particles of silica sand. The particles lodge in the lungs and irritate the tissue. Wearing a respirator when working with sand is advised.

Regarding Sporotrichosis, I have transcribed and summarized an article written by Darroll D. Skilling, principal plant pathologist at N. Carolina Forest Experiment Station, 1992 Folwell Ave., St. Paul MN 55108, from Carnivorous Plant Newsletter (with permission from the editors of that journal:

Relax, the picture is a joke
Stage I: Infection begins

Sporotrichosis is caused by the fungus Sporotrichum schenckii, which has been found in soil, flowers, shrubs, and even wooden mine props. Also found in Sphagnum. How the moss gets contaminated is not clear, and attempts to detect the fungus in Sphagnum bogs have not been successful, but it has been found in bales arriving at nurseries. The fungus is found throughout the US, especially in Wisconsin. As of 1984, state forest tree nurseries no longer pack seedling trees in moss because of this. The Michigan USDA Forest Service nursery also discontinued the use of Sphagnum. Infection occurs when the spores of the fungus are introduced through a small abrasion or scratch in the skin. In one to four weeks a small painless blister develops at the entry site. This blister becomes inflamed and slowly enlarges. Other areas may become infected as the fungus spreads through the lymph vessels. Nodules may form along the infected lymph channels, and the lymph glands in the armpit or elbow may become enlarged and sore. If untreated, the disease progresses slowly to the bones, abdominal organs, and uninvolved skin. But diagnosed early, the disease can be adequately treated and is rarely fatal. Treatment is potassium iodine taken orally several times a day for up to three months. Expect upset stomachs. I believe there is another treatment that has been developed which is preferred over this. Newer information indicates some uncertainty as to the fungal species.

Another poor sufferer (S.F.) told me the disease is also called "Rosarian's disease," and wrote:

Relax, the picture is a joke
Stage II: Advanced infection

I was one of the lucky people to get this disease, two years ago. I believe I got it because I had a small puncture wound (a spider bite?), and then potted up cp's without gloves. The wound on the back of my hand widened and opened, and was ugly and refused to heal. It didn't hurt really, just looked awful. After a week or so, I went to a doctor who prescribed antibiotics (no effect, since it's a fungal infection). When I went to my regular doctor two weeks later (he had not been available before), I mentioned that I dealt with Sphagnum and that I knew there was some disease associated with it. He had vaguely heard of Rosarian's disease, and read up on it while my hand was x-rayed (to eliminate the foreign body idea). He sent me to a dermatologist, who took a biopsy, and eventually (two to three weeks later) confirmed the diagnosis. He had never seen the disease, and made me go to grand rounds (teaching hospital), so that everyone else could see it. Great fun.

The treatment is three months of taking Potassium iodide by mouth... I had to add it to water and drink it three times a day. Pain in the neck, and it tastes icky. But it worked, and no problems now. If it is NOT treated, it can eventually become systemic, and could eventually kill you. I am not any more likely to contract it again than I was before.

I admit I still don't always use gloves, but I AM very careful if I have any kind of wound on my hands! Beware! (Sept. 1999)

A friend tells me that an article in the AOS Bulletin reported that New Zealand Sphagnum (once thought safe) can carry the fungus. The bottom line is, "How contractible is this?" In my circles I know many people who use Sphagnum extensively, and only two have gotten the disease. But to be safe, when I work with it I try to remember to use a mask and gloves.

A synonym for the fungus is Sporothrix schenckii. FAQ-reader Will E. tells me that as of 2008, the recommended treatment for sporotrichosis is the antifungal oral Itraconazole (brand: Sporanox). Medical science proceeds....

And for clarification, in case you really have an undeveloped sense of humor, the photos on this page are bogus, but the disease is for real.

Page citations: Raimi, S. 1982; Skilling, D.D. 1984; reader contributions; personal observation.

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Revised: 2018
©Barry Rice, 2018