The great ringworm epidemic of 2018
Everyone in vet med has a thing that they hate, or that they can’t handle. For me, this is maggots – they are a hard NO from me….the wiggling, the disgustingness, the ick factor….just no. Honestly just thinking about them makes me feel a little queasy. But, for MANY many people – their thing, is ringworm. Honestly, I think ringworm gets a bit of a bad rap – it’s not THAT bad…sure it causes fur loss, and skin infections, and it takes months to clear, and it’s highly contagious from animals to animals and from animals to humans…but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t cause any long-term problems, so it’s not so bad in my book.
In high school I had a gym class called individual-dual sport. I cannot emphasize enough how much of a joke this gym class was, and I was delighted. We did things like archery, and hacky sac competitions, and potato sack races. Yes, sign me UP! In one gym class, we played dodge ball in the weight room, and I’m sure you can guess where this is going…I got ringworm. Just one spot, on my back – my friends and I named him ‘Frank’ and would check on him daily. It was a little sad once he cleared up, to be honest.
My second brush with the ‘worm was not as easily contained, and caused a lot more drama in my life. And so, I am here to tell this cautionary tale. Back in 2018, we rescued 2 sisters from one of our shelters down south – they were adorable husky mix girls with severe skin infections and suspected mange. Alison and I were the ones to foster them, and their names were Beezus and Ramona, and man were they cute! When they arrived, we took some skin samples and found that they did in fact have demodex (the non-contagious form of mange that is common in puppies and can cause some fur loss and secondary skin infections), and skin infections. We started them on medications and antibacterial baths, and let them settle in!
Over the first few weeks they were with us, their skin dramatically improved and the fur started to regrow! Except….Beezus had a few stubborn spots that were really not improving, and she was still pretty itchy. I vividly remember one fine day when Kira pointed at the spot on her forehead and said, ‘Are we worried about this spot and those few others that aren’t really resolving?’ Nah, I’m sure it’s fine.
Fast forward another week or so later….the spots are worse. Ok, fine, maybe we should investigate those further – I took some samples and we waited. You see, to diagnose ringworm you must plate a skin sample and let it grow – so it can take up to 10 days to confirm a positive sample. So I took the sample and we waited.
10 days later…the plate had, in fact, turned red indicating a positive sample. Oh s***. (Insert Kira’s voice – I TOLD YOU SO!). Ok. It’s ok….we’ll just start treatment on her. We added an oral antifungal, and anti-fungal shampoo, and some topical treatments, no big deal. Two days later – hmm….is that a spot of fur loss on my dog Croi ’s face? And what about this spot on Killian’s leg? Oh man…what about this spot on MY FACE? And my leg?
Pause to tell a fun side story here – as this was unfolding, I went away to a conference where I knew no one, and had ringworm on my face and my leg, and had to take an Uber to a CVS so I could buy some anti-fungal ointment. Talk about awkward….
At the same time as Beezus, we had another foster – Scooby, who got adopted while the ringworm situation was unfolding. You guessed it, he got it as well. As did their other dog in the adoptive home, and the wife. Sammie, who pet-sits for us, also got it from watching our dogs. In Alison’s home, Ramona had a few mild spots, and she shared it with her dog, Jasper, and their other foster at the time too. So fun to be so easily shared! Thankfully as it was unfolding and we recognized who had it, we were able to contain it with lots of quarantining, and ointment. But man…there was a stressful week where it was just dog after dog with it, and I was starting to sweat – will it ever end???
In the grand scheme of things, this could have been so much worse….but let me tell you what. You want people to avoid you like you have the plague? Just get a little ringworm on you….it’s a sure fire way to become a leper. Here’s the lesson from this fine story of how diseases spread – I think there are two takeaway points:
1. When Kira Berger says – do you think we should be worried about that? Yes, you should be worried about that.
2. When fur loss is not improving – you should just automatically test for ringworm.
Everyone is fine, everyone healed, and we can laugh about it now (honestly, I laughed about it then too, but LOTS of other people were not laughing). It just took a few months, lots of baths and medications, for the skin to heal, but there may still be some emotional scars here that could take a bit longer to heal…the staff still refers to it as the great ringworm epidemic of 2018, so I think more time is needed for full healing 😊