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Deadly fungus that has a 20% kill rate more common in US than previously thought – and is cropping up in unexpected areas

In a groundbreaking study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have brought to light concerning evidence suggesting that blastomycosis, a lethal fungus claiming the lives of up to one in five individuals it infects, might be more widespread than previously believed. Contrary to the earlier assumption that the disease was uncommon, the CDC’s findings highlight a higher incidence of the fungus in Vermont compared to four of the five traditionally monitored states.

Blastomycosis, caused by inhaling spores released from disturbed rotting wood or leaf litter, has the potential to establish itself in the lungs and spread to the skin, brain, and spinal cord, causing pneumonia and inflammation. Despite the disease being tracked in only five states, the CDC’s research indicates a more prevalent occurrence in Vermont.

By delving into a vast dataset of tens of thousands of health insurance claims spanning from 2011 to 2020, the study reveals a blastomycosis rate of 1.8 cases per 100,000 people in Vermont, escalating to three cases per 100,000 in 2019-2020. In comparison, the rates in four monitoring states—Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, and Minnesota—remained below one per 100,000. Only Wisconsin matched Vermont’s average, hovering around three per 100,000.

The implications of this study challenge preconceived notions about the prevalence of blastomycosis, emphasizing the importance of increased awareness among clinicians. Blastomycosis, stemming from the Blastomyces fungus found in moist soil and leaf litter, can present as a mild cough or rapidly progress to pneumonia, skin lesions, and neurological issues.

Traditionally monitored around the Mississippi River basin, the discovery of the fungus in Vermont raises concerns. Notably, a paper mill outbreak in Michigan last year marked the largest blastomycosis outbreak in US history, underscoring the severity of the infection. This study calls for future research to deepen our understanding of the disease’s epidemiology and ecology, urging clinicians to consider blastomycosis when patients exhibit compatible symptoms.

In conclusion, the CDC’s revelations shed light on the underestimated threat of blastomycosis, prompting a reassessment of the disease’s prevalence and a call to action for medical professionals to remain vigilant in the face of this potentially deadly fungus.

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