Have you ever gone for hike and gotten burrs stuck on your clothes? Depending on the type of clothing you have on, the hooks or teeth on the burr can bury themselves in and make them virtually impossible to get out. The same goes for long haired black cats that get up to no good on their nightly walk around.
What do burrs and porcupine quills have in common – aside from the fact that both burrs and quills can attach themselves into your skin and become difficult to remove? The only reason that I’m talking about them together is that I was reading an article about porcupines when my no-good, very bad long-haired black cat came in covered head-to-toe in burrs. He was so heavily covered with them he managed to get my son’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stuck to him as well.
The article I had been reading was discussing a fungal infection that had been found in several porcupines from three states (Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire). The porcupines had been taken to different wildlife rehabilitators and although first thought to have mange, they were actually infected with Trichophyton mentagrophytes, a fungal organism that is commonly found in domesticated cats and dogs, livestock and even humans.
In humans, Trichophyton is known to cause athlete’s foot. It is also one of the causative organisms for ringworm. While Trichophyton generally causes only minor skin infections in humans and most animals, in porcupines the lesions spread to infect the entire body and can become debilitating, and if not treated can be fatal. While a common fungal organism, this is the first time that Trichophyton has been found in porcupines, and the fact that it has been found in porcupines in three states brings about the question of how the fungal infection is being spread. While humans and porcupines do not chum around together, this does increase the concern of zoonotic transmission.
Trichophyton can be transmitted by direct contact, by contact with infected particles (of dead skin, nails, hair) shed by the host, and by contact with the fungi's spores. Porcupines tend to stick close to trees, but can also be found alongside river undergrowth and maybe in the trees by a rocky ledge. They live in dens found in rock piles, caves, fallen logs and trees and like to stay close to home except when they forage for food. Finding where and how they came across the fungi will be hard to find, but certainly as we expand our reach and take over natural habit of these interesting creatures, the unfortunate truth is that we or our pets could be the source of their woes.