February 23, 2024 10:07 am
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Wisconsin Fungus Presents Risk to Hikers, Hunters, and Outdoors People of the State

Credit: iStock

Jeff Fuentes Gleghorn

UW Health warned residents of Wisconsin to be careful of microscopic spores in the great outdoors. Wisconsin soil is home to Blastomyces dermatitidis, a type of fungus that, when breathed in, can cause a dangerous fungal infection called blastomycosis. 

Dr. Bruce Klein, a pediatric infectious disease physician with UW Health kids and professor of pediatrics at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, has been studying Blastomyces for almost 40 years. “Wisconsin sees among the highest rates of blastomycosis in the United States,” Klein said. “The fungus grows in damp acidic soils, particularly along river and stream banks, among leaves, pine needles and decaying wood.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of people infected with the fungus will show symptoms. Those symptoms are similar to other respiratory infections, and include fever, cough, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pain, weight loss, chest pain, and fatigue, or extreme tiredness.

“Some people experience only mild flu-like symptoms such as fever and cough, but others may develop pneumonia, and some may die if the fungus colonizes and overwhelms the lungs in the absence of treatment,” Klein said. Symptoms can start anywhere from three weeks to three months after exposure, so tell your doctor if you have spent a lot of time outdoors in the last few months.

While there is no vaccine for blastomycosis, it is treatable once diagnosed. People who have blastomycosis will take prescription antifungal medication to eliminate the infection. According to the CDC, treatment can take between 6 months and a year, depending on how severe the infection is. Fortunately, the CDC says that blastomycosis cannot be transmitted from person to person, it can only be caught when the fungal spores are disturbed and spread into the air in the wild. The CDC says that people with weakened immune systems may want to avoid activities that disturb the soil in places like Wisconsin where Blastomyces is present.

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