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Dangerous Fungus Now Endemic in Pacific Northwest: CDC
Date:7/22/2010

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- Cryptococcus gattii -- an airborne fungus that can cause life-threatening illness -- is an emerging infection in the Pacific Northwest, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

While C. gattii infections are rare -- only 60 cases have been reported since 2004 -- they can be severe and even fatal, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in the July 23 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"C. gattii is still rare so we don't want people to panic or to misunderstand the risk of infection, but it is serious," said co-author Julie Harris, of CDC's National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne, and Enteric Diseases.

Harris explained that people get the infection by breathing in the spores of the fungus, which live in the environment and are usually found in the bark of certain trees and the surrounding ground.

C. gattii infection causes a prolonged cough, shortness of breath, headache, fever, weight loss, and, in some patients, a stiff neck, according to Harris. The fungal infection is not contagious among people, she added.

Symptoms can take months to develop after exposure, with the median time being six to seven months, and incubation periods as short as eight weeks and as long as 13 months.

Of the 60 reported U.S. cases of C. gattii since 2004, 43 were in Oregon, 15 in Washington and one each in California and Idaho, the report noted.

Among the 47 patients whose medical information was known, 81 percent had another underlying disease -- including three patients with HIV -- that could have made them susceptible to C. gattii infection, the report indicated.

Nine of the patients who were tracked after becoming infected (20 percent) died due to their infection, and six others died with the infection. But only two of the n
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