Thursday, April 22, 2010

Toxic Airborne Fungus From Oregon Spreading Across West Coast



Cryptococcus gattii is an airborne fungus usually found in the tropics. But researchers announced today that new, deadly strains are thriving in Oregon, and spreading. These strains kill 25% of people who come into contact with them.

A paper published this afternoon in PLoS Pathogens offers details on the new strain of C. gattii, and how it came to the Pacific Northwest. After several local animals died from exposure to the airborne fungus, researchers realized that this wasn't an imported problem - the animals had lived their whole lives in Oregon, so they couldn't have been exposed in the tropics. There must be a local version of the toxic fungus. They gathered a sample and examined its genome, only to discover that this was a new strain of an already-virulent lifeform. They dubbed these strains VGII.

Said researcher Edmond Byrnes III:

This novel fungus is worrisome because it appears to be a threat to otherwise healthy people. Typically, we more often see this fungal disease associated with transplant recipients and HIV-infected patients, but that is not what we are seeing yet.
How did a tropical toxin wind up in Oregon? The researchers believe climate change may have something to do with it. Plus, these new strains are probably better adapted to the region. They likely evolved from an outbreak of C. gattii in British Columbia in 1999. The fungus then spread to Washington and Oregon.

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