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article imageDeadly tropical fungus spreading to Pacific Northwest

By Igor I. Solar     Jul 23, 2010 in Health
A fungal infection originating from tropical and sub-tropical regions have been reported in Vancouver Island in Canada, and Washington and Oregon in the United States, causing respiratory illnesses and deaths.
The fungus known as Cryptococcus gattii occurs in Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia, but some cases have also been reported in other tropical and sub-tropical regions, indicating its spread to India, and to Brazil and Colombia in South America.
In 1999 it appeared in British Columbia where more than two hundred people have been infected and at least 19 people have died from complications related to it. In the United States, the fungus was reported for the first time in Whatcom County, Washington, in 2007 and in April 2010 it was identified in Oregon State. The fungus also affects the respiratory track of animals, including dogs, horses, ferrets, and even aquatic animals such as porpoises in the waters surrounding Vancouver Island.
It has been suggested that global warming may have been a factor in its emergence in the Pacific Northwest. Its appearance in a temperate northern climate could indicate the fungus is adapting or has a wider climate tolerance than previously thought, or climate change might be creating conditions where the spores can survive, according to a report from the British Columbia Center for Disease Control and the C. gatti website of the University of British Columbia.
Epidemiologists are informing health care providers about the presence of this fungus so they can report it when noticed and to ensure that they give patients the right treatment. Fungal infections require different treatments than bacterial infections, which are treated with antibiotics, or viral infections, which can be treated with antivirals. Antibiotics won't work on C. gattii, which instead can require intravenous anti-fungal medication and, because it is slow to respond to medical treatment, the disease may take several weeks to treat.
People exposed to the spores of the fungus, which are found on and around trees, may not become sick for months, or more than a year, after breathing them in. Symptoms of a Cryptococcus gattii infection include a prolonged cough lasting weeks or months, chest pain, shortness of breath, severe headache, fever, night sweats and weight loss. The good news is that the fungus is not transmitted from person to person or from animal to person.
Old forest in Vancouver Island  British Columbia  typical environment where the spores of the tropic...
Old forest in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, typical environment where the spores of the tropical and sub-tropical fungus species Cryptococcus gattii may be found.
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