Killer Fungus Spreading In U.S. & Canada

Amanda Gardner reports on the deadly fungus for CNN:

A rare but life-threatening tropical fungus that causes lung infections in both people and animals has been seen in the Pacific Northwest and could spread, researchers are reporting.

The fungus, known as Cryptococcus gattii (or C. gattii), has infected dozens of humans and animals–including cats, dogs, and dolphins–in Washington and Oregon in the past five years. While rare, the fungus has been lethal in about 25 percent of the people in the U.S. who have developed infections, according to Edmond Byrnes III, a doctoral student in molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University and one of the lead authors of a new study about the fungus.

In the study, Byrnes and his colleagues analyzed 18 cases in people and 21 in animals that occurred in the U.S. between 2005 and 2009.

The symptoms of infection include chest pain, a persistent cough, shortness of breath, fever, and weight loss. The fungus can also cause meningitis, or inflammation of the membranes lining the brain, but can be treated with antifungal drugs. C. gattii is found in soil and trees, but experts haven’t yet determined how humans breathe it in.

Byrnes and colleagues have discovered a new, especially dangerous strain of the fungus. This strain–which is confined to Oregon, for now–is “highly virulent,” says Byrnes…

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