Sporotrichosis in cats and people is rare in the UK and most common in Brazil

NEWS AND OPINION: I make sure that people realise that in some of my articles I express my opinion as I feel I must but opinions are always based on hard facts and careful research.

Sporotrichosis is a zoonosis which means it can be transmitted from cat to person.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

In this instance, remarkably, Google News reports on a UK government website article about sporotrichosis, a fungal disease commonly known as “rose gardener’s disease”. The disease is a zoonosis which means that it can be transmitted from animals to people. It can also be contracted from the environment (soil). It’s caused by a group of fungi from the family/species called Sporothrix.

In the UK sporotrichosis infections are very rare. Normally they are caused through environmental exposure meaning the person picked up the fungus from the ground for example and perhaps this is why it is called the rose gardener’s disease.

In 2022 there was an outbreak of this disease affecting three people and of interest to cat owners, it was most likely caused by coming into contact with a domestic cat imported from Brazil. This was the first time that sporotrichosis had been transmitted from a cat to a person in the UK and indeed is the first time it happened outside of South America where it is the most prevalent.

The UK government website provides a list of the number of UK imports of domestic cats from Brazil by year, from 2017 to the end of July 2023. It may surprise some people that there is a consistency in the importation of domestic cats from Brazil and the numbers are not insignificant at, for example, 89 cat in 2017 through 46 consignments.

Here is the table:

YearNumber of consignmentsNumber of cats% change in cat import numbers from previous year
20174689
20184992+3%
201965134+46%
20203971-47%
20213563-11%
20223971+13%
20234046

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There is no legal requirement to test for this disease in cats imported into the UK. And, I understand that there’s no legal framework to control the disease if present in the UK.

Cats with the disease may have extensive skin lesions (breaks in the skin). This may prevent them being imported to the UK if these lesions are apparent (they are – see note).

Note: I have just looked at some photographs of domestic cats suffering from sporotrichosis and frankly the pictures are very difficult to look at. The lesions are enormous and primarily over the face. There’s no way these cats would be exported from Brazil or imported into the UK looking that ill. No doubt the lesions on some cats are much less obvious than in others. I can’t show a photograph of a domestic cat with extensive lesions because it would be too distressing and advertisers do not allow their adverts being associated with difficult to view pictures of sick cats or people.

For people who live in both Brazil and the UK and who travel between the two countries regularly and who might wish to import a domestic cat from Brazil to the UK, I think it’s worthwhile for you to know about these lesions which it may be advisable to check for.

In humans, the disease has a three week to 3-month incubation period after exposure. The experts say that humans contract (acquire) the disease through ‘traumatic inoculation’. That’s a strange phrase but it means the pathogen i.e. the fungus is delivered under the skin which I presume means the cat has to scratch the person or the person has a break in the skin and that area comes into contact with the lesions on the cat mentioned above.

The symptoms on a human are initially a raised area of the skin at the site where the fungus was delivered to the person and which is red (inflamed). These are called erythematous papules.

These develop into subcutaneous nodules which means lumps under the skin which spread along the lymphatic system and they may become ulcerated.

Note: I have also seen photographs of people infected by this fungal disease and the inflamed areas are very noticeable. They are quite extensive and they will need to be thoroughly investigated by a doctor or perhaps a specialist consultant.

Veterinarians should be cautious about handling cats from Brazil if they present with lesions. They should note the travel history of the cat. Deceased infected cat shouldn’t be buried to prevent soil contamination but cremated.

You should seek your doctor’s advice on treatment because I’m not qualified to provide that information. This article is simply flagging a possible rare situation that might occur to a person unfortunately. They would be very unfortunate because as mentioned it is very rare but it is one of a number of zoonotic diseases which means a disease that can be transmitted from a domestic cat or other animal to a person.

In Brazil, more than 11 000 human cases have been reported in the past 10 years.

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