Rose thorns more dangerous than you think

Dear Dr. Gott: Last spring, I contracted rose-thorn disease. Very painful and extreme swelling occurred in just one finger. I was in the hospital for days under sedation and on antifungal meds. I’m still having stiffness and swelling in that finger now and then. When will this go away? I must say, everything is not coming up roses here.
Dear Reader: Rose-thorn (or rose gardener’s) disease has the technical name of sporothrix schenckii. It is a fungus that resides on hay, sphagnum mosses and the tips of rose thorns. It can cause infection, redness, swelling and open ulcers at the puncture site. The fungus can spread to the lymphatic system and move on to the joints and bones, where it ends up attacking the central nervous system and lungs when the thorn or thorns are deeply embedded.
Diagnosis can be complicated because the condition is relatively uncommon. When an ulcer does present, it is often mistaken by a physician as a staph or strep infection and gets treated accordingly. It is only when the antibiotics prescribed fail to eradicate the ulcer that physicians look outside the box.
Many people enjoy the fragrance and beauty of roses in their gardens, and they should continue to do so. It is likely that they’ve had their skin pierced by thorns on numerous occasions. The best way to prevent rose-thorn disease is to wear appropriate gloves when pruning and to wash any minor punctures with an antibacterial soap. Should a thorn embed the skin beyond that of a minor puncture, it is critical to watch carefully for any signs of infection and report them at once to a physician for testing. The best way to determine whether the infection is present is through a culture of the wound. This is often done by taking a biopsy of the area, which is then examined.
You have continued with symptoms for close to a year now, so I can’t guess how long they might last. Perhaps a small portion of the thorn has remained embedded in your finger and is the reason for the prolonged flare-up. Speak with your physician to determine whether further testing or another short course of antifungals is appropriate.
The simplest things in life carry risk. If flowers provide you pleasure, take precautions that will allow you to stop and smell those roses.
DEAR DR. GOTT: My dermatologist told me that I have a fungal infection in my scalp. He gave me a shampoo that didn’t help and also made my hair very dry and unhealthy looking. I am now beginning to lose my hair every time I brush and wash it. It comes out in strands and doesn’t grow. I’m getting a small bald spot in the front and don’t know what to do or where to turn. Can you please help me?
DEAR READER: Fungal scalp infections, also known as tinea capitis or ringworm of the scalp, are relatively common. Caused by a moldlike fungus, the condition is very contagious.
Symptoms include scalp itch, inflammation, pus-filled lesions, small black dots on the scalp and areas of the head that appear bald because the hair has literally broken off.
As a general rule, oral antifungal prescription medications are more effective on a greater variety of fungi. Topical ointments control surface fungi only. Less expensive (and perhaps better) home treatments include tea-tree oil, grape-seed extract, (green) black walnut and the juice from fig leaves.
Because the condition thrives in areas of poor hygiene and skin injuries, it is recommended that hair be washed regularly and allowed to dry completely. Avoid scratching an itchy scalp. Do not use a sharp-toothed comb. And, of extreme importance, do not share a comb, brush, towel for drying the scalp, or hats and headscarves that haven’t been cleaned. Sharing such articles will simply pass the fungus from one person to another. Ringworm is also known to be spread by pets, particularly cats.
If a physician is unable through visual exam to make a diagnosis, biopsy and other procedures are available. The disorder is persistent and will require meticulous attention.
To provide related information, I am sending you copies of my Health Reports “Compelling Home Remedies” and “More Compelling Home Remedies.” Other readers who would like copies should send a self-addressed stamped No. 10 envelope and a $2 check or money order for each report to Newsletter, P.O. Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092-0167. Be sure to mention the title(s) or print an order form off my website at


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