MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The owner of a lawncare business is sending out a warning after he says he got a fungal disease while doing yard work.
He’s lucky it didn’t kill him. Now, 74-year-old Luther King is alerting the public to be mindful of fungal infections while doing yard work.
“It’s a hazard,” King said in a warning posted to social media. “I’ve known a lot of lawn guys that are dead and that have died and people don’t know what killed them.”
King says he first came into contact with the fungus last month, but it wasn’t until he started having trouble breathing that doctors pinpointed the issue.
King, who has been in the lawn care industry for more than 30 years, said last month he came across a house covered with moss. In the coming weeks he says he started getting sick, and weeks later, he was severely ill.
“My leg became infected,” he said.
This past weekend he says things took a turn, and he ended up at a VA Hospital in Kentucky while on a business trip.
His symptoms included shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, muscle aches and joint pain.
“I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “They had to load the equipment onto the truck. I couldn’t do nothing, I was just hard breathing.”
King says doctors told him he possibly came in contact with a fungus that can be found in moist soil.
Fungi like Blastomyces or Sporothrix can be found almost everywhere from the soil to rose bushes, said Dr. Steve Threlkeld is the director of Infectious Diseases for Baptist Memorial Healthcare in Memphis.
“Both of them are very uncommon, but it’s very common comparatively in this part of the country, particularly the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys,” Threlkeld said. “Either can cause skin infections by direct inoculation, from gardening or inhaling something, and it doesn’t have to be related to lawn care. You can just be taking a walk at the wrong park on the wrong day at the wrong time.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the Sporothrix fungus causes a condition called sporotrichosis — also known as “rose gardener’s disease.” Blastomyces causes blastomycosis, which can cause symptoms like fever and cough for some people, though most aren’t affected.
Threlkeld says most of us will never get infected. However, if you have a weakened immune system, it’s wise to take precautions.
“You may really want to wear a mask to prevent some of those spores and dust particles from getting into your lungs, and you may want to wear gardening gloves from getting punctured or scraped in those situations,” Threlkeld says.
As for King, he says he’s waiting on his bloodwork to return so that doctors can determine his next steps in treating his fungal infection.