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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rose thorns can be dangerous

Peter H. Gott, United Media

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.