Concerns are Mounting Over Deadly Fungus in Northwest U.S. and British Columbia

Trees and soil in the Pacific Northwest are thought to be the source of the fungusA new deadly strain of an airborne fungus, called Cryptococcus gattii, is infecting both animals and people in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, according to Duke researchers. 

Although rare so far, this airborne fungus has been highly virulent with a mortality rate of about 25 percent. It typically only infects immunocompromised patients, but this new strain is genetically different and is a threat to healthy people as well.

Treatment of this highly lethal infection requires months to years of antifungal medications. Surgery is often necessary to remove the large masses known as cryptococcomas that can develop in various parts of the body.  There is no known method of prevention or vaccination at this point.

C. gatti has historically been a tropical fungus normally found in South America, Australia and Papua New Guinea. In these areas, it tends to favor eucalyptus trees with rates of infection among people being relatively low.

However, in 1999, the fungus emerged as a new strain on the east side of Vancouver Island where it is thought to have infected certain areas of soil, water, and local trees. From 1999 through 2003 the outbreak was confined to the island, but since 2003 the infection has also been found in the mainland of British Columbia, Washington state, California and Oregon.   Given this path, as well as the fact that C. gattii potentially can be dispersed through export of trees and woody products, air currents, water currents, and biotic sources, such as birds, animals, and insects, the researchers predict further spread of the fungus into the U.S. 

The disease is not contagious from person to person or person to animal.  It is thought to spread through the air to both humans and animals by inhalation of spores released by the fungus from the trees, soil, water or air.  

“The primary site of infection is the lung; C. gattii can lead to pneumonia or formation of cryptococcomas. The infection can disseminate to most other organs, notably the central nervous system (CNS), where it causes meningoencephalitis or brain cryptococcomas”, according to a February 2010 article in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Most people never develop symptoms, but the spore-forming fungus can cause symptoms in people and animals two weeks or much longer after exposure.  Symptoms in people include a cough that lasts for weeks, sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, fever, nighttime sweats and weight loss. 

 Cats, dogs and a wide range of both domestic and wild animals have been infected.  In animals the symptoms are a runny nose, breathing problems, nervous system problems and raised bumps under the skin.

Although the occurrence of this infection is rare, the CDC warns residents and even tourists in these areas to be aware of suspicious symptoms such as those described above, which should be reported to their physicians. 

SOURCE: “Emergence and Pathogenicity of Highly Virulent Cryptococcus gattii Genotypes in the Northwest United States”, PLoS Pathogens 2010.

SOURCE: “Potentially deadly fungus spreading in US, Canada”, Reuters Health, April 23, 2010

SOURCE: “Cryptococcus gattii Risk for Tourists Visiting Vancouver Island, Canada”, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol 13, No. 1, January 2007

SOURCE: “Epidemiology of Cryptococcus gattii, British Columbia, Canada, 1999–2007″, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 16, Number 2–February 2010 

SOURCE: “Projecting Global Occurrence of Cryptococcus gattii”, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Volume 16, Number 1–January 2010

 

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1 Response to “Concerns are Mounting Over Deadly Fungus in Northwest U.S. and British Columbia”


  1. 1Michele

    Gee, maybe this deadly new strain came from the New Zealand raised GENETICALLY ENGINEERED eucalyptus trees Rubicon intended to plant in 29 “field trials” in 7 different US states. Does anybody know if approvals were ever given for the US field trials?

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