Lincoln County has historically had higher rates of Blastomycosis than other areas in Wisconsin. Although numbers of Blastomycosis in Lincoln County have gone down in recent years (4 cases in 2016 and 1 case in 2015), it is still a disease that residents need to be aware of.
Blastomycosis or “Blasto” is an infection caused by the fungus Blastomyces dermatitidis. The fungus lives in moist soil, decaying wood and leaves. The fungus only grows and produces infecting spores under certain conditions which relate to humidity, temperature and soil nutrition. These conditions are commonly found near lakes and rivers.
Blastomycosis develops when an individual breathes in the fungus; this usually happens when the soil where the fungus is found is disturbed through activities such as hunting, hiking, gardening, excavating and brush clearing. Only about half of the people who are exposed will develop symptoms. Symptoms typically occur 2-15 weeks after breathing in the fungus.
Symptoms are similar to the flu and include fever, chills, cough, muscle aches and pain in joints, back or chest. In serious cases, infection can spread to the skin, bones, organs and central nervous system. Blastomycosis is generally more severe in the elderly and those with underlying health conditions such as a weakened immune system, asthma, chronic lung conditions, diabetes and smoking. “Since there are currently no effective preventive measures for Blastomycosis, it is important to talk to your provider if you are experiencing symptoms,” said Kristin Bath, Health Educator for Lincoln County Health Department.
Although anyone can get Blastomycosis, the risk of getting this illness is low. Your chances may increase if you are often involved in outdoor activities in areas with moist soil containing rotting leaves and wood. If you a think you may have Blastomycosis, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider.