Sheshegwaning blasto update

The tell tale figure eight of blastomycoses. courtesy of Island Animal Hospital

Nine infections confirmed and all have recovered

SHESHEGWANING FIRST NATION—The Expositor has recently learned more information about several cases of blastomycosis that effected nine individuals in Sheshegwaning last summer.

Blastomycosis is a rare fungal infection caused by breathing in a fungus (blastomyces dermatitidis) which is found in rotten wood and damp soil. Exposure may also occur by getting the fungus on a skin scrape or cut.

The Department of Indigenous Services Canada (DISC) stated that it is aware of cases of blastomycosis in Sheshegwaning First Nation, including one individual who spent time there in the summer but was diagnosed and treated in another area of Ontario.

The Expositor has learned that there were nine cases in total including six children.

“All cases have recovered,” said Health Canada Senior Media Relations Advisor Maryse Durette.

Ms. Durette also confirmed that one dog was infected.

Blastomycosis is not contagious from person to person, or from animal to person, she added.

“The fungus grows in moist soil, leaves and rotting wood and is known to be present in northwestern Ontario,” said Ms. Durette. “Some cases are identified every year in Ontario.”

This is not the first case of blastomycosis on Manitoulin. The Expositor did a series of articles over the last five years after the deaths of a Sheguiandah woman and a Birch Island woman.

“One of the cases DISC interviewed reported a dog in the same household had been infected with blastomycosis and was put down,” she said. “We do not have confirmed information about other cases in pets.”

“In response to several cases of blastomycosis in Sheshegwaning First Nation, a DISC Environmental Health Officer (EHO) visited the community in September 2017,” Ms. Durette continued. “The EHO met with the community leadership and provided information about blastomycosis, including signs and symptoms and how the disease can be acquired, through a well-attended community presentation.”

Ms. Durette also told The Expositor that the DISC hired a company to conduct environment testing for blastomycosis in the community.

“None of the environmental samples collected yielded a positive result for the fungus,” said Ms. Durette. “This is not an unusual result as environmental testing for this blastomycosis is rarely successful. The department also conducted comprehensive interviews with the individuals diagnosed with blastomycosis, or parents in the case of children, to obtain information on their activities during the exposure period and any risk factors they may have. Analysis of these case interviews did not reveal a source of exposure to blastomycosis.”

The DISC investigation worked with the chief of the community, Dean Roy, throughout the process, in addition to EHOs, nurses, epidemiologists and medical officers, Ms. Durette further noted. A community health nurse from Mnaamodzawin Health Services was also involved.

“The findings (of the investigation) will be shared with the chief of the community once DISC has been able to discuss them further with a blastomycosis expert,” Ms. Durette concluded. “Due to patient confidentiality, the results cannot be shared publicly.”

Despite the initial investigation not yielding a source, Joey Laford, a Sheshegwaning bandmember, said he suspects the Sheshegwaning beach.

“Myself and my son Joseph (age 7) spent last summer in Sheshegwaning with my parents,” said Mr. Laford, who noted that he is from Manitoulin but now lives in southern Ontario. “Joseph was having symptoms similar to pneumonia when he returned to school in September but medication wasn’t helping him.”

The symptoms of blastomycosis are often mistaken for pneumonia or even lung cancer. They can include a persistent cough, muscle aches, joint pain, tiredness, chills, low-grade fever, skin sores or unexplained weight loss.

Mr. Laford learned from his partner that other children in Sheshegwaning had presented similar symptoms and had been taken to Health Sciences North in Sudbury where it was discovered that they had blastomycosis.

“I took Joseph to the McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton and they ran tests and determined that he had blastomycosis,” said Mr. Laford. “We spent 10 days there as Joseph was treated. He still takes an oral suspension twice a day called Intraconazole—it’s an antifungal and seems to be working properly. He is getting better on a daily basis, but I wouldn’t say that he is 100 percent yet.”

Mr. Laford said he too was diagnosed with blastomycosis after exhibiting similar symptoms to his son and is on antifungal medication as well.

“Joseph was part of a youth group that spent a lot of time at the beach in Sheshegwaning,” said Mr. Laford. “The other kids that got sick were from the youth group too so a lot of people think that must be where they got it from. I picked him up daily at the beach so that is likely where I picked it up as well.”

Despite getting sick, Mr. Laford said he will still be returning to Manitoulin.

“I had never heard of blastomycosis before Joseph and I got it,” he said. “I grew up on Manitoulin—it’s a safe place, but this just came out of nowhere. It’s my home so we will be back again this summer.”

More information about blastomycosis, including causes, symptoms, prevention, etc, is available at: www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/blastomycosis.html