Duluth, Minnesota — Health officials have recently found that blastomycosis is spreading at a worrying rate. Cases related to dogs have seen a 50% increase in 2019 compared to 2018. The fungal disease is mushrooming due to moist and warm conditions caused by the warmer summer climate.
So far this year, officials have recorded precisely 170 blastomycosis cases in dogs. As mentioned, it’s a 50% increase compared to 2018. The condition was at its peak for dogs in 2017. Back then, a total of 155 cases were recorded.
Experts claim that the disease is triggered by the Blastomyces fungus. Blastomycosis develops in spring and reaches its peak by October.
Veterinarian Malia Ireland of the Department of Health stated that most reports arrive from September to November. However, the expert also claimed there could be more reports in the following months. This year, it seems like the outbreak occurred in summer.
However, the disease is not only affecting our favorite pets. Last month, health officials noted a rapid increase in human cases. They claimed that the disease originates mainly in northern counties.
Blastomyces grows in moist soil where organic materials decompose. Outbreaks occur in dense forest areas. Malia Ireland and other health officials believe that heavy rainfall may be one of the causes of the surprising increase. Flooding exposes the soil where the fungal spores thrive and then carries it through the water. Ireland has said that a lot of reports come in from rivers and creeks that were recently flooded.
Other officials claim blastomycosis does not need waterways to expand and can be found in moist soil located away from water.
Blasto in Minnesota
The disease has been brewing in Minnesota for the past few decades. However, Ireland noted that the increase in reports might not be related to the actual blastomycosis expansion and an increase in spores. The leap could have been recorded due to the fact that more cases are being reported and diagnosed. The vet also claims it could be a mix of both.
Jeff Bender, a vet from the Twin Cities, has been investigating the disease since 1995. Bender used to work for the Health Department. In 1997, he took the initiative to declare Blastomycosis a formal and reportable disease. As a specialist in human and dog diseases, he believes climate change is a possible cause of the fungal outbreak from this summer.
A Warning for Dog Owners
Vets are advising pet owners to look for symptoms along the lines of coughing, appetite loss, lethargy, inflammation, eyesores, and skin issues. Unfortunately, a vaccine has not been developed. And according to Ireland, it’s extremely difficult to test and inspect the soil. It’s also hard to grow the fungus under lab conditions, meaning that scientists cannot get accurate insights into how it thrives in nature.
Bender noted that the blastomycosis belt is in the northeastern areas of the state. He claims that awareness and avoidance of moist soils may be the most effective course of action.
Ireland, however, noted that fast and early diagnosis is the best solution. After observing recent data, she noted that the disease is fatal in over 20% of infected dogs.
The illness targets internal organs. The infection is caused when the spores are inhaled by a dog or human, and it can have severe consequences on the respiratory system. Moreover, it can also spread to the joints and bones.
An early diagnosis can save your dog. However, treatment and recovery are incredibly lengthy. It could last up to 6 months or more.
Officials have noted that nearly 80% of dogs survive after early diagnosis and treatment. However, the costs of that lengthy treatment can add up to $1,000 for each dog. The medicine needed is Itraconazole which is also used for treating humans.
Experts have warned that hunting dogs may be the highest risk. These dogs spend a lot of time outdoors where they are exposed to moist soil. Others who live in the woods, like sled dogs, can also be at high risk.
The most common way of contracting the fungus is during outdoor vacations in nature. Cabins, forests, and moist homes may be heavily exposed to the fungus. If infected, symptoms will usually appear in up to three months. In the past few decades, cases were reported in all MN counties. So far, the hot spots are Itasca, Aitkin, St. Louis, Tower-Ely, Duluth, Cass County, and Grand Rapids.
Furthermore, over 50% of cases occur in Retrievers and similar dogs that weigh more than 50 pounds. Interestingly, only a small percentage of cats (4%) have been diagnosed, and the disease is not very common in rabbits, horses, and other animals.
Other ways the disease can spread are through septic tank construction sites, humid basements, shoes, moist wood, sewer lines, etc. However, Chip Hanson of the Ely Vet Clinic believes the hot spots frequently change and are extremely unpredictable.
Are Humans Safe?
Pet owners should take care and watch out for suspicious areas. It’s possible that the disease can affect people and that it can be contracted in the same way. However, blastomycosis cannot be transmitted and is not contagious.
Nevertheless, officials have recorded 56 cases in people so far in 2019. That’s nearly a 50% increase compared to 2018 when the number of cases was 31. On average, blastomycosis can be fatal for 10% of human patients.
In humans, incubation lasts approximately 45 days. The reports generally skyrocket in September due to summer vacations and outdoor activities on infected soil.
Since it’s a fungal disease and not a result of a bacterial infection, antibiotic treatment will not be effective. However, there are several effective antifungal remedies and treatments. Medicine such as Itraconazole is the most common, and human treatment can last up to 12 months.