Deadly Fungus Invades USA

A mutated strain of fungus is attacking even healthy people and can be deadly.This fungus does not spread from person to person But via spores that we breathe in as they float in the air.

A new strain of deadly fungus that has mutated from the fungus family known as Cryptococcus gattii has emerged in Oregon and Washington, and is threatening to spread into California.

This fungus That is indigionus to tropical regions has somehow made it's way to mainland British Columbia, and  then to Washington and Oregon. It is on the move towards Northern California. So far, according to Dr. Ben Sun, the California state public health veterinarian.4 human cases and 4 animal cases have been reported in California

The airborne fungus, called Cryptococcus gattii, usually only infects AIDS patients, transplant patients and people with otherwise compromised immune systems, but the new strain is different. Healthy individuals are being infected. Of the 21 known cases involving the new strain, 6 have been fatal—about 25 percent. The new strain has so far been deadlier than the strain in British Columbia, which killed 19 out of 218 known victims, or 8.7 percent.

The spores of this virulent fungus are absorbed through the lungs. The symptoms of infection, which can appear up to several months after exposure, may include chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, fever and a persistent cough that lasts for weeks. This fungus also infects animals and there have been dogs and cats found to be infected from it in Oregon. This fungus causes infection in the lungs and can even cause Cryptococcus Meningitis which can be deadly.

The Center for Disease Control has called Cryptococcus gattii an Emerging Infectious Disease. Epidemiologist Julie Harris of the mycotic diseases branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, “We need physicians to be aware of this and think about it when they see symptoms of infection…This is a serious infection, but so far it's a rare infection.” Molecular biologist Edmond J. Byrnes III of Duke University Medical Center said, “Overall, I don't think it is a large threat at this time, But the fact that it is continuing to spread geographically and the number of cases is rising makes it a concern.”  Philip Alcabes, Ph.D., an infectious diseases epidemiologist at Hunter College, in New York City says genetic mutations are common and are “a pretty normal, expectable evolutionary event in nature that has a slight amount of human fallout.” He also stated that over time the virulence of the fungus is bound to decrease if it follows normal patterns..

There are really no preventive measures advised and the best course of action is to be aware of the possible symptoms and if you have them be sure to press your doctor to run the tests that will let you know if this fungus has invaded your body. If you find that it has, treatment should be started right away. 

Fortunately there is a treatment for this infection, it, however,  isn't an easy one. It involves 60 to 90 days of a daily intravenous drip with an antifungal solution, followed by several more weeks of an oral treatment to stop the infection.

Sources:

Duke University Medical Center.

National Geographic Daily News

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Syeda Jannat
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Posted on Feb 14, 2011