Michigan health officials said that 109 cases of a rare fungal infection called blastomycosis were linked to an Escanaba paper mill, a five-fold increase since the previous update one week ago.
One death and 13 hospitalizations have been reported among the 109 cases. Public Health Delta & Menominee Counties reports that all the cases involve employees, contractors, or visitors of the Billerud Paper Mill. Billerud shut down mill operations in April to allow for additional cleaning. In a Monday statement, the company said it is targeting a start-up date of May 8.
County health departments stated Friday that although the number of cases of blastomycosis has increased since their last update, it does not necessarily mean that exposures continue. The incubation period of blastomycosis is between 21 and 90 days. Therefore, all cases are likely to have been exposed before the mills idling.
'While there are still new cases of blastomycosis being diagnosed and reported to Public Health Delta & Menominee Counties each week, we see fewer cases reported every week, and many cases have shown symptoms and signs since March.' Department health officer Michael Snyder stated in a press release.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blastomycosis occurs when a fungus called blastomyces lives in the environment. It is found in moist soil and in decomposing materials like wood and leaves. The Midwest and South are the most common areas to find it, especially around the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and Great Lakes.
According to the CDC, there are only 1 or two cases per 100,000 individuals each year in states that have blastomycosis as a reportable disease. In one analysis, 1,216 deaths were attributed to the disease between 1990 and 2010.
The CDC stated that people can inhale these microscopic fungi spores. Although most won't become sick, others will experience symptoms like fever or cough three weeks to three months after. According to local health officials, other symptoms include chest pains, difficulty breathing, night sweats and fatigue. In rare cases the infection may spread to other parts of the body, such as the brain, spinal cord, skin, or bones.
The fungus does not spread. The antifungal medicine must be taken from six months up to one year depending on severity and overall health.