Archie's Story - Aspergillosis Raising Awareness
Archie contracted a fungal infection up his nose. Known as Aspergillosis it is a vile fungus that nearly cost him his life. Aspergillus is a fungus that naturally occurs in the environment and is pretty impossible to avoid. It can affect humans as well as animals and can be fatal. In dogs, it mostly affects large dogs with long noses and is most commonly seen in German Shepherds between the ages of 3 and 8 years. Archie is a textbook case in that respect.
Aspergillosis mostly lodges in the nasal cavities and stays localised but can infect other parts of the body and if inhaled into the lungs sets up a systemic infection that is very difficult to treat. In Archie's case, and in most cases affecting dogs, it lodged in the nose. This fungus is in the environment all around us and is apparently mostly found in grass cuttings or decaying vegetation and in mouldy or old hay. In a healthy animal or person, it would normally not be able to get a hold and the immune system will destroy any odd spores that the body might come into contact with.
Archie's vets believe that he contracted it when his nose was inflamed following a bout of vomiting (long story but he now knows not to eat sand) which caused some vomit and gut bacteria to get into his nose and set up a nasty irritation. For a few months he had a recurring snotty nose and worked his way through every antibiotic in the book and every diagnostic test known to veterinary science. His vet suspected Aspergillosis from the start but because the treatment is so aggressive they would not give it unless a confirmed diagnosis was obtained and all the tests (swabs, washes, x-rays, bloods etc) were coming back negative. Eventually his nose started bleeding. He went through all the tests again including a CT scan and biopsy. Eventually we got the positive result we were looking for and the surgery was booked in immediately. The surgery involves trephining (drilling) the frontal sinuses and via tubes inserted into the sinuses washing first with saline to wash away any mucus, then Canesten liquid and finally packing the sinuses with Canesten cream which stays in contact with the fungus for longer and hopefully kills it all off. 20% of dogs need this process repeated for a complete cure.
Unfortunately, the day after the diagnosis was confirmed, Archie had a series of nosebleeds over a period of 12 hours, each one worse than the last which, an afternoon spent in the local branch of the vets getting the bleeding under control culminated in a desperate dash to the veterinary hospital at midnight where he almost bled to death. It was an awful time knowing his life was in the balance. Thankfully, in no short measure due to the wonderful vets, he pulled through but his surgery was delayed until he had recovered enough to withstand it which was a nail-biting time because another serious bleed during that period would have been likely to be fatal.
When he did get his operation it transpired that the fungus had eaten through his septum which could be when the major bleeding started. There was no sign of any holes on the CT scan which was only taken 2 weeks before his operation. He has recovered well and as I type, he is curled up at the bottom of my bed without a care in the world, and apart from a head which is bald from between his ears to between his eyes, you'd never know there'd ever been anything wrong. He’s not quite finished with the vets and he may well have to go through the surgery again if his nose continues to run but we won't know for sure for another few weeks.
I want to warn every dog owner to beware of this vile infection. If any dog, but particularly a GSD or similar, develops a persistent runny nose, don't waste time and it seems a biopsy has the best chance of giving the correct diagnosis because it takes the sample direct from the site of the infection (other tests apparently often give false negatives because of the volume of the samples e.g. bloods). I don't want anybody to go through what Archie and I have experienced in the last month. If Archie's story saves even one dog it will be worth it. I'm not going to relax until we've got a definite all clear from the vets, but so far so good. He is back to normal exercise and is being spoilt rotten. When he came out of hospital after his operation, my Mum turned up with a pound of prime Aberdeen Angus beef from the herd up the road!