An airborne fungus appearing in the Pacific Northwest has health care professionals baffled. Why?
They aren't sure where it's coming from, other than it being environmental. One thing they do know is
that it is deadly and cannot be prevented, but on a lighter note, they say it is treatable. Cases have
so far been found in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California. The fungus initially surfaced in
Canada back in 1999, then made it's first U.S. appearance in Washington, 2006.
Fungal diseases typically attack those with a weakened immune system, but this rogue fungus is attacking healthy people. The new strain, officially called Cryptococcus gattii, is currently being studied
at Duke University. The CDC isn't releasing specifics, but at present time there has been more than 50
cases reported, in which at least 10 patients have died. The age of the infected patients ranged from 15 to 95 years of age. It has the ability to simulate certain types of pneumonia, but must be treated with anti-fungal therapy versus anti-biotics. Not only are people at risk, but animals are also prone to infection from this strain, including bottle nose dolphins off the California coast. So far, there is no evidence of
it being contagious from animals to humans.
Symptoms of the fungal disease include: headache, sharp chest pain, chronic cough, shortness of breath, fever and weight loss. Currently, the strain is considered a low threat. According to Julie Harris, PhD, MPH, of the CDC, "It's still very rare. People should be concerned but not alarmed." Katrina Hedberg from the Oregon Department of Health Services feels that the chances of people being exposed to the fungus and becoming sick are rare. Still, officials are keeping a wary eye out, and if the number of cases begin to increase, so will the level of threat.