Health officials track blastomycosis

Manitoba public health officials have started keeping closer tabs on an uncommon fungal condition, called blastomycosis, found mostly in the Kenora area.

The sometimes fatal condition is a growing concern for health officials here. They believe up to 12 Manitobans come down with blastomycosis every year. They think most of them contract it in the Lake of the Woods region, but they're not sure so doctors are now being asked to report any cases they come across.

"If we can develop a standardized data base, we'll be able to tell if our number of cases is going up or down," says Dr. Greg Hammond, the director of Manitoba's public health branch.

The unit also launched an awareness campaign for medical practitioners because family doctors often misdiagnose blastomycosis as pneumonia or even cancer. That can result in delays in treating a disease that is sometimes fatal.

Over the past 12 years, six Manitobans have died of blastomycosis.

Dr. Fred Aoki is a microbiologist who sees most of Manitoba's cases. "It looks like it's a touch of pneumonia. They're coughing, maybe having a little bit of sweating at night. They're losing their appetite, maybe losing a bit of weight. If this goes on, they should be mindful of the fact that this uncommon fungus may well be the cause of this problem," Aoki says.

Aoki says blastomycosis can be successfully treated with anti-fungus medication. He says people don't need to do anything special when they're out in the area. "But if they get sick, with a lung problem, think of blastomycosis as something that's very treatable and needn't be something that causes terrible problems if it's picked up early enough," he says.