There’s a new fungal disease that has some experts concerned. According to the Center for Disease Control, a fungal illness has infected more than sixty people living in the Pacific Northwest – including some animals – and is threatening to continue its expansion into the United States.
A New Fungal Illness?
This fungal infection is caused by a fungus called Cryptococcus gattii, a fungus normally found in subtropical and tropical areas of the world. It’s made the jump to the United States and has the potential to infect both humans and animals – although it doesn’t seem to spread from person-to-person or animal-to-animal. The number of cases of this disease has almost tripled since 2009.
How Serious is This New Fungal Illness?
According to the CDC of the people who have been diagnosed with C. gattii, almost ninety percent had to be hospitalized and almost a third of the people died from the infection. It’s more likely to affect adults than children, and it can infect normal healthy men and women – not just people who have weakened immunity.
New Fungal Illness: What are the Symptoms of Cryptococcus Gattii Infection?
Most people with this fungal infection start out with pneumonia-like symptoms such as cough, wheezing, difficulty breathing, muscle soreness nausea, vomiting, and fever. In fact, almost sixty percent of people with this infection develop symptoms of a fungal pneumonia.
Other serious complications include meningitis and brain inflammation. When this fungus infects the brain or nervous system, a person experiences severe headache, stiff neck, visual changes, light sensitivity, personality changes, and dizziness.
Fortunately, a person who has C. gattii infection isn’t contagious to other humans – and humans can’t catch it from animals.
How is C. Gattii Transmitted?
People become infected with this fungus when they breathe in the spores – and they enter the lungs. The spores are found in the soil and around certain trees.
Can C. Gattii Be Treated?
If it’s diagnosed early enough, it may respond to long-term intravenous anti-fungal medications, which are needed for up to two months. Sometimes areas of infection in the lungs or brain are walled off, which may require surgical treatment.
C. Gattii Fungal Illness: The Bottom Line?
Although this fungal illness is rare, if you live in or visit the Pacific Northwest and spend time outdoors, it’s important to be aware of it. Dogs can also become sickened with this fungus, so be on the lookout for any suspicious symptoms.
Family Practice News. August 2010. pages 28-29.