Woolstrike, also known as Ram Pox, is a zoonotic, cutaneous fungal infection with symptoms superficially similar to orf in its early stages. It primarily affects ovinex, though, as that species has come into ever-closer contact with Rostrans, it has spread beyond the Ovinex Island Tribes into the rest of the Manifold.
Transmission & Vectors
Woolstrike is spread through skin-to-skin contact with infected individuals, though the spores responsible for initial infection can cling to damp wool or skin for an extended period of time.
Woolstrike is caused by exposure to the spores of a unicellurlar fungus which prefers to linger on damp skin surfaces. Once established on a surface, the fungus anchors itself to the flesh with microscopic pseudopoda and establishes a biofilm with its neighboring fungal cells to resist removal except through debridement. Once established, the fungi begin to multiply and exude an irritating digestive enzyme that breaks down dead skin cells and hairs, leaving bald, living skin behind. At this point, the host's immune system begins attacking the fungi and will eventually kill it; in response, the fungi begin the spore phase of their life cycle, opening others who touch the host to infection.
Woolstrike sufferers begin to exhibit itching, then rashes and scabbing, on infected skin surfaces as the fungal biofilm there digests the dead skin and hair, leaving raw, irritated skin behind. Where it only falls on exposed skin, the disease is sometimes mistaken for orf in its early stages. Sufferers typically develop bald spots in their hair or fur where the disease takes root in the skin beneath. Curiously, those who had bacterial infections in the affected region typically recover from them when a patch of woolstrike fungi takes hold, and woolstrike wounds typically do not become gangrenous; it has been suggested that this is because the digestive enzymes exuded from the fungi may also have antibiotic properties.
Treatment includes topical fungicidal creams, sterile procedures for healers and members of the household, and quarantine of infected flock members. Keeping all exposed skin and wool clean and dry can dramatically reduce the duration and severity of the woolstrike.
Without treatment, most individuals afflicted with woolstrike will recover within around two weeks, though this may take longer in immunocompromised patients or those who live in particularly damp environments. Generally, hair and wool lost to woolstrike begins to regrow once the disease has abated, though severe cases may leave permanent bald spots. Recovered individuals generally retain sterilizing immunity for a year or so from the time of last infection.
The advent of airship travel allowed some cases to spread to foreign territories through unwitting explorers and diplomats from the Rostran Archipelago Confederacy.
Woolstrike originally began as a disease among Rostral grand sheep, where it would quickly jump the species barrier to Native Ovinex shepherds tending to the animals. After the Rostran-Ovinex War, when the first Civil Ovinex 'offerants' were kept as 'guests' among the Low and High Rostran peoples, a few of them passed the disease to their Rostran hosts.