Health unit must step up to shine a light on blastomycosis

Sadly, we are now able to report that there have been two Manitoulin Island area persons who have succumbed to blastomycosis during this calendar year.

The first person died early in January, the second person this month.

People (and dogs and cats as well) are infected with the blastomycosis fungal spore, which occurs in abundance around the eastern shoreline of Georgian Bay and on Manitoulin Island. People and pets are usually infected when they are working with (or near) earth that has been harbouring the blastomycosis spores, and which has been disturbed by construction which can occur on either a large or small scale.

Although the organism is well established as a part of the environment in which we live, blastomycosis infections are unusual enough in humans to often go initially undetected by medical authorities.

In fact, it is the veterinary medicine practitioners on Manitoulin Island who have become adept at diagnosing and treating pet animals who have come into contact with and been infected by blastomycosis spores because of its local prevalence.

But two fatalities within a year means the whole community needs much more education on what blastomycosis means, how it can be contracted, how to avoid it (as much as possible), its symptoms and how an infection can be cured.

This newspaper has taken the issue seriously and has given the blastomycosis issue as much publicity as possible in an effort to warn Manitoulin and area people of the real hazards to themselves and to their pets.

But, with this second tragic death, it is very clear that the Sudbury and District Health Unit must recognize this as a real threat to human life in our region and mount a sustained public information campaign designed to educate people of all ages about this unseen hazard and its various symptoms.

These two fatalities are not the first people to have been infected with blastomycosis in this area but they are the first, as far as we know, who have perished from the condition.

In several other cases, the condition has been eventually identified and successfully treated and the patient returned to their prior level of health.

But, in the spring and summer, people like to work in their gardens and in ways large and small dig up, turn over and move earth around; the very activities that free the blastomycosis organisms that can invade humans, usually (but not always) finding a new home in their lungs.

We hope and expect that the Sudbury and District Health Unit will move the blastomycosis file to the top of its regional hazards list and join this newspaper in a campaign to educate the public in doing as much as possible to avoid the infection and, in the worst cases, to be aware of its symptoms when infection does occur.