Blastomycosis: A fungus among us
Courtesy of the Lincoln County Health Department
LINCOLN COUNTY – Blastomycosis or “Blasto” is an infection caused by the fungus Blastomyces dermatitidis. Lincoln County has historically had higher rates of Blastomycosis than other areas in Wisconsin. Lincoln County had three cases in 2018, 0 cases in 2019 and six cases thus far in 2020. Lincoln County Health Department (LCHD) wants to remind everyone that although the risk of getting the illness is low, everyone should be aware of the signs and symptoms.
The fungus that causes Blastomycosis lives in moist soil, rotting wood and leaves. The fungus only grows and produces infecting spores under certain conditions. These conditions are commonly found near lakes and rivers.
Blastomycosis typically affects the lungs. In serious cases, the infection can spread to the skin, bones, organs and central nervous system. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, weight loss, muscle aches and pain in joints, back or chest. Blastomycosis symptoms may go away with or without treatment. However, those who smoke, have underlying health conditions, or a weakened immune system may be more susceptible to severe infection.
Only about half of the people who are exposed will develop symptoms. Symptoms typically occur 2-15 weeks after breathing in the fungus.
Blastomycosis develops when an individual breathes in the fungus; this usually happens when the soil where the fungus is found is disturbed through activities such as digging, hunting, hiking, gardening, excavating and brush clearing. It is not thought to spread from person to person.
Animals, mainly dogs, may develop blastomycosis as well. Canine blastomycosis is a common canine disease and, if not properly diagnosed, may be fatal. Symptoms in dogs vary and may include eye problems, lack of appetite and energy, raspy bark and trouble breathing.
Although anyone can get blastomycosis, the risk of getting this illness is low.
“It is important to know the signs and symptoms of the disease, especially when we are spending a lot of time outdoors where our chances of encountering blastomycosis may increase,” said Meghan Williams, Environmental Health Specialist, Lincoln County Health Department. “Your chances may increase if you are often involved in outdoor activities in areas with moist soil containing rotting leaves and wood. If you a think you may have Blastomycosis, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider.”