TORONTO — A community in northern Ontario is dealing with a potential outbreak of blastomycosis, a lung infection caused by breathing in mold and fungus found in the wild.
In a Facebook Live announcement, Constance Lake First Nation Chief Ramona Sutherland said at least 11 people were suffering from severe lung infections. Indigenous Services Canada is working with First Nation and the Porcupine Public Health Unit to identify and address the needs of the community.
Officials are inspecting sites in the community identified by Constance Lake First Nation Leadership. Laboratory samples are being taken to determine mold and fungus.
But where does blastomycosis come from and how does it spread? We put our questions to Dr. Anna Banerjee, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto and Dr. Anna Banerjee of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
What is blastomycosis?
It’s called a dimorphic fungus, which means it’s mold in most places but when it enters the body at human temperatures it turns into a tiny yeast bud. So it’s not that common, and most people who get it look like they have pneumonia. If it is diagnosed on time then you can treat it with anti-fungal and people will be fine. But I think the hard part is diagnosing it.
Why is it difficult to diagnose?
It is not common and most people who get blastomycosis often do not get a diagnosis until later. Sometimes their chest X-rays come up with findings and they think, ‘Well, could this be tuberculosis? … Could it be cancer or something?’
You can do a blood test to see if someone has antibodies against it, you can do a biopsy. It can go to any part of the body and sometimes it can also go to the skin and you can take a sample from the skin and you can identify the fungus.
Are outbreaks common? Where is it found?
Outbreaks are still very rare. It occurs in scattered areas of the north.
What is the source of this mold and where is it found?
It is a mold in the community, where it occurs in decaying matter, so wood piles usually occur. So if there could be blastomycosis it’s in the pile of wood that’s rotting, someone moves it or things move around and it gets aerosolized.
How will the outbreak start?
The outbreak usually happens when there’s a bunch of people and they’re shaking wood, and there’s blastomycosis, and they’re all exposed at the same time or at the same time.
Is it person to person transferable?
It is a yeast at body temperature and this yeast is not transmittable to other people, so you cannot get it by coughing, you cannot get it in the same room. It is really only from the environment where it is a mold, and mold forms spores, and it is by inhaling those spores that it can grow and turn into yeast in the body.
So the mold is out?
It is usually outside in the wood. It is not like the black mold seen in housing complexes. Most people are not at risk; It is usually caused by some event that happened outside. The incubation period is like a month to a few months, so it’s usually something that happened a week or month ago, they were carrying something like rotten wood along the way, a group of people would come up. And then within a month people start having symptoms.
Is it easily treated?
It is an anti-fungal if you get it on time; You take it by mouth, it is therapeutic. So all you have to do is make sure you diagnose early and treat people early.
If it is not easily diagnosed, would that explain a larger outbreak?
It is not an easy diagnosis to make outside of an outbreak.