Infectious disease professor explains how Blastomycosis impacts the human body
ESCANABA, Mich. (WLUC) - Blastomycosis cases continue to rise in Delta County, linked to the paper mill. We are breaking down what we know about the infection and how it’s impacting peoples’ lives.
“This is something I know the docs up in that area, particularly the Upper Peninsula, of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, have a lot of experience in treating,” said Kathleen Linder, a clinical assistant professor in infectious diseases at the University of Michigan.
Right now, there are 21 confirmed and 76 probable blastomycosis cases in workers at the Escanaba Billerud paper mill.
Blastomycosis comes from the Blastomyces fungus which can be found naturally in soil, leaves and trees in the U.P.
“Blastomyces is a fungus. It lives as a mold in the environment and then when it’s in your body, it acts as yeast. Many people are exposed to it in their lifetime, just depending on where you live, where you visited, but only a few people actually become ill from the fungus,” said Linder.
Linder says fungus concentration could be why there are so many cases at Billerud.
“Knowing the situation going on at the paper mill up north, my guess is that there was probably one tree or series of trees that had a lot of mold on it. As it goes into the paper mill, the mold is aerosolized and shot into the air and anyone who breathes it in can be at risk of developing disease,” said Linder.
Because it’s a fungal infection, Blastomycosis cannot be spread from person to person. Linder says most people who are infected won’t have symptoms.
“In some cases, people with a weakened immune system, whether it be from immunosuppressing medicines like chemotherapy, or from underlying conditions, have symptoms. If the immune system can’t control the fungus, those people are more likely to have it go throughout their body,” said Linder.
Less than one percent of people have cases where the fungus goes into their lungs. If that happens, there’s a 30-percent chance of death. So far, one person has died from this outbreak.
Read more about our coverage of Blastomycosis here.
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