Airborne Fungus Expected to Spread in U.S.
About 10 People Have Reportedly Died in Northwestern U.S. After Infection With C. gatti
WebMD News Archive
Tracking the Fungus continued...
While the fungus was typically seen in tropical areas of South America and
other tropical and subtropical regions, it surfaced in Vancouver Island,
Canada, in 1999, says Heitman, the senior author on a report on the fungus
published online this week in the journal PLoS Pathogens.
"It is a microbial pathogen that can cause significant illness and even
death, but it is very uncommon," he says.
Infections can be treated with antifungal agents, but no vaccine is
available for C. gattii, Heitman says.
The first recorded U.S. case was in Orcas Island, Wash., Heitman says. That
was followed by cases in Washington and Oregon.
Hedberg says the 50 reported cases have occurred in Washington, Oregon, and
Heitman's team has discovered a new pathogenic strain of the fungus in the
Unlike another fungus type, Cryptococcus neoformans, which typically
infects those who are HIV-positive or other immunocompromised people, the C.
gattii fungus can infect apparently healthy people.
The 50 cases reported to the CDC, Harris says, include people from age 15 to
How the Fungus Spreads
''The fungus is present in the environment," Hedberg says. "It's present in
soil or in trees." As trucks transport lumber down the I-5 corridor in the
Pacific Northwest, she says, the fungus has likely spread.
The airborne fungus is inhaled. "People have to inhale it to get sick,"
Hedberg says. "It's not spread from person to person at all."
And, she adds, many are exposed but few actually get sick.
The time from exposure to the fungus to onset of symptoms varies, Heitman
says. It could be two to eight months.
Four symptoms are typical of infection with C. gattii, says Harris of
the CDC. They include:
- Severe headache
- Shortness of breath
Some people infected with the fungus have just one of the symptoms, she
tells WebMD, but often they have all four.
See your doctor if you experience the symptoms and think you may have been
exposed, she advises.
She encourages doctors to be alert to the symptoms in patients, especially
if they live in or have visited the Pacific Northwest.