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
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
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
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.