Fungal outbreak in US kills one and hospitalises 13

Fungal outbreak in US kills one and hospitalises 13

Credit: Gorodenkoff/

In what is rapidly becoming one of the largest fungal outbreaks that America has ever known, five more people have been diagnosed, with more feared to follow.

The source of the outbreak is at the Billerud paper mill on the Upper Peninsula, Michigan. To date, a total of 109 infections have been confirmed, with 13 people admitted to hospital and so far, one person has died, reports The Daily Mail, Tuesday, May 2.

The spores that cause the disease are found in rotten wood or leaf litter, which if inhaled can result in a rare infection called blastomycosis.

The latest figures were released last week and now bring the total number of infections to 109. More cases are expected over the next few weeks as patients often begin to show signs of infection after a few months.

Local health authorities say the victims of the outbreak are all employees, contractors or visitors at the paper mill in Escanaba, Michigan.

The mill was closed in mid-April when experts could not find the exact source of the infection, although authorities believe it could be from wood that was sent to the mill for processing. Investigators have had the ventilation system deep cleaned, to further reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

The first case of Blastomycosis was traced back to late February, but owners, Billerud told workers to wear face masks and waited for over a month to close the mill.

In mid-April, a contractor who had worked at the mill was confirmed as the outbreak’s first death.

Vice president of the union, Jamie Dier, told reporters that workers who became seriously ill were ‘not able to breathe’ and were ‘coughing up blood or mucus’.

Mr Dier himself caught the infection and said he suffered for six weeks, leaving him short of breath but is now fully recovered.

Although Blastomycosis starts as a lung infection, with coughs, fever and chest pain, it can then begin to affect the skin, bones and the brain and spinal cord.

The previous largest outbreak of blastomycosis was in Wisconsin in 2010 which led to 55 infections, 30 hospitalizations and two deaths, making this latest incident the most significant to date.

Health officials have reassured the public and stated that the fungus is contracted by breathing in its spores, and confirmed that the disease is not transferable from person to person.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.