Tuesdays With Tony – Pythium
My regular clinic duties usually consist of monitoring dentals, vaccines, ultrasounds, sometimes suturing lacerations or medicating eyes. On the contrary, the surgery I was forced to witness yesterday is unlike anything I have ever seen or hope to see again in my 9 lives. We had to lay down a horse with two wounds on her pasterns that were infected with something called “Pythium.” It looked repulsive! As I understand from the doctors, Pythium is a fungus-like organism that lives in standing water, especially in Northern Florida (lucky me). Horses (or dogs or cats) become infected by either drinking water containing the organism, or by standing in puddles, mud, or wet grass laden with the fungus. Fortunately, cats hate water, so we wouldn’t be caught dead in such a situation.
Dr. Vurgason saw the wound last week and immediately took a biopsy and debrided (scraped off) as much as possible with the horse standing. When the results of the biopsy came back positive for Pythium, I could tell it was bad-news-bears. Apparently Pythium is approximately 50% fatal, even with treatment. But the doctors have formulated an aggressive treatment plan including vaccination, debridement under general anesthesia, and regional limb perfusion with a powerful anti-fungal medication.
All I know is, yesterday’s surgery was very unpleasant to observe. The wounds were full of these gross things called “kunkers” which serve as a source of infection and a place for the fungus to hide out, undetected by the horse’s immune system. The kunkers were surrounded by grayish goo, and there were probably a dozen of them! The deeper the doctors cut, the more kunkers they found. It was all I could do not to cough up a hairball.
Anyway, the surgery went well and the horse woke up fine, thanks to my supervision. Check out the attached pictures if you have a strong stomach! Hopefully the rest of my week will be less gory.
Beginning of surgery when we found the first set of “Kunkers”
First step of removal of the “Kunkers”