Here is one you may not have heard about unless you happen to live in my neck of the woods.
We started hearing about the appearance on Vancouver Island of the tropical fungus Cryptococcus gattii in the late 1990s. Though several people had become sickened, some animals, including dogs, had actually died.
The topic has popped up from time to time since then, and our local Peninsula College applied for a grant to study Cryptococcus gattii in its natural environment, but they were not selected to receive the monies.
However, now we get a report that the spore-forming fungus is not only appearing in Washington and Oregon, it has mutated into a more lethal strain as it has traveled. As its primary habitat is Douglas fir and western hemlock -- trees in which we are awash -- it is apparently finding hospitable conditions.
In Canada 218 people are known to have been infected, and slightly less than 9 percent have died. In the U.S., there have only been 21 confirmed cases, but 5 of those have proven lethal. There are no statistics available for animals other than humans infected, but the early reports from Vancouver Island mentioned dogs and llamas that had contracted the fungus.
Symptoms are said to be like pneumonia, but if left untreated, worsening slowly over time . . . shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever, headache. The fungus travels in sports, and when they are inhaled they colonize the lungs and then spread throughout the body. Treatment involves IV antifungal medications for roughly two months, followed by other medications.
The infection can easily be missed or mistaken for something else, so knowing that it is now occurring in Washington, Oregon, and California, should be a heads-up to residents, both for themselves and for their animals. There is no direct person to person or animal to animal transmission. Instead, the fungus spores are blown by the wind or carried on shoes or car tires.