Friday, April 23, 2010

Vancouver Island's Deadly Export

One of the effects of global warming is migration. Animals, even plants migrate - away from the warming. People are just beginning to migrate from homelands where habitability is in decline. And, of course, pests and disease are also migrating.

According to Reuters, Vancouver Island has its own travelling ambassador of climate change, a potentially lethal fungus, cryptococcus gatti.

The airborne fungus ...usually only infects transplant and AIDS patients and people with otherwise compromised immune systems, but the new strain is genetically different, the researchers said.

“This novel fungus is worrisome because it appears to be a threat to otherwise healthy people,” said Edmond Byrnes of Duke University in North Carolina, who led the study.

“The findings presented here document that the outbreak of C. gattii in Western North America is continuing to expand throughout this temperate region,” the researchers said in their
report, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Pathogens.

“From 1999 through 2003, the cases were largely restricted to Vancouver Island,” the report reads.
“Between 2003 and 2006, the outbreak expanded into neighboring mainland British Columbia and then into Washington and Oregon from 2005 to 2009. Based on this historical trajectory of expansion, the outbreak may continue to expand into the neighboring region of Northern California, and possibly further.”

The spore-forming fungus can cause symptoms in people and animals two weeks or more after exposure. They include a cough that lasts for weeks, sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, fever, nighttime sweats and weight loss.

It has also turned up in cats, dogs, an alpaca and a sheep.

Freezing can kill the fungus and climate change may be helping it spread, the researchers said.

Despite the alarming tone of this report, the cryptococcus threat isn't huge - yet. An oceanside provincial park in town, Rathtrevor, was singled out several years ago as some sort of crypto-epicentre and warnings are posted that the fungus can be present on the stands of trees but a lot of us still regularly stroll through the forest trails without incident.

This fungus is far more prevalent on tropical islands in the mid-Pacific, the spots you might pay a king's ransom to visit for a holiday.

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