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How to avoid Cryptococcus gattii

When a person has an infection, they often consider bacteria and viruses as the culprit, but fungi can also infect humans. One type of infectious fungus is Cryptococcus gattii, a relative of Cryptococcus neoformans, an opportunistic pathogen often seen in HIV/AIDS patients and others with a severely depressed immune system. However, unlike C. neoformans, C. gattii infects healthy individuals.

C. gattii spores are inhaled and then take up residence in (i.e. infect) the respiratory tract of both humans and other animals. Some infections are asymptomatic, but illness can take 2-12 months to appear, with symptom onset usually occurring 6-7 months after exposure to the spores. The infection was once considered endemic, occurring sporadically in the tropics and subtropics, where the fungus was known to grown on the eucalyptus trees, but since 1999 the fungus has been isolated and caused disease on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada as well. Also, since 2004, cases of C. gattii infection have been documented in Oregon in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

The symptoms that occur with Cryptococcus gattii infection (called cryptococcosis) can vary from fever, chills, and night sweats to coughing, shortness of breath, and aches (headache, chest pain, neck pain and stiffness), as well as light sensitivity, decreased alertness, and weight loss. Twenty percent of those who are infected develop meningitis, an infection of the central nervous system, and death was originally estimated to occur in less than 5% of human cases. However, since the spread to North America, the mortality rate increased to 9% (of 218 known patients), and is now at 25% (of 21 evaluated patients) for the most recent strain in Oregon.

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