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VANCOUVER ISLAND VIRUS ALERT

 

Fatal fungus in Vancouver Island prompts travel alert

The fungus can also attack the central nervous system and result in meningitis.

 


 

 

BY A CORRESPONDENT
February 14, 2007

A tropical, lethal fungus that has made its home on Canada’s temperate West Coast has prompted foreign medical experts to issue a worldwide alert to doctors and tourists.

The warning comes after a 51-year-old Danish visitor contracted the rare and life-threatening fungal infection on Vancouver Island.

In the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases, published monthly by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors in Denmark – who eventually found clumps of the fungus growing in the man’s chest – have warned that the island is a potential health risk to travelers.

Cryptococcus gattii, a microscopic pathogen normally found in tropical or sub-tropical locales in Australia, Africa, India or South America, was first identified on Vancouver Island in 2001.

Many suspect that global warming has recently enabled the one-celled organism to thrive in the trees, soil, water and air along the island’s east coast.

While the chances of contracting cryptococcus gattii remain low, the airborne cells and spores can lodge deep in the lungs, leading to pneumonia. The fungus can also attack the central nervous system and result in meningitis.

As of December 2006, 165 people had been infected and eight have died.

Animals have been the worst-hit. In Washington state, cryptococcus gattii killed a cat and made sick two others in Whatcom County.

The fungus also has infected dogs, ferrets, pet birds and horses. The corpses of infected porpoises have washed ashore, making this one of the world’s few, real multi-species outbreaks.

Human cases have emerged on the British Columbia mainland and in Oregon and Washington state.

The Danish man who prompted the alert was admitted to the hospital with fever and chest pains radiating to his left shoulder. Over the next five days, as his fever worsened and he struggled to breathe, a lung biopsy revealed that he was infected with cryptococcus gattii cells he inhaled during his trip to Canada.

Dr Jens Lindberg and colleagues from Denmark’s Herning Hospital has advised tourists and medical staff of health care centres worldwide to be alert for symptoms of cryptococcosis after travel to Vancouver Island.

Cryptococcus gattii infections are usually curable with anti-fungal drugs if detected early.

 

 

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