Thunder Bay

Watch out for blastomycosis, Thunder Bay vet warns dog owners

People who spend a lot of time outdoors, particularly those that own dogs, are being reminded about the presence of a potentially fatal disease caused by a fungus in the soil.

Fungal disease from soil can affect animals, people and can be fatal

Dogs that spend a lot of time digging could be at risk for blastomycosis infection. (Shutterstock/826A IA)

People who spend a lot of time outdoors, particularly those that own dogs, are being reminded about the presence of an illness caused by a fungus in the soil.

Blastomycosis is a fungal infection that can affect both humans and animals, and can be fatal. The fungus that causes it lives in the ground and the resulting infection can transmitted to people or pets if it's dug up and inhaled.

"I would say that just generally over the last seven to 10 years, we are seeing and diagnosing more cases of it," Calli Thompson, a veterinarian with the Northwestern Veterinary Hospital in Thunder Bay, Ont., told CBC News, but added that could be due to an increased awareness of the illness.

In addition to being transmitted through inhalation, blastomycosis can also find its way into the body through skin wounds.

Tracking where the illness was actually contracted is next to impossible, Thompson said as it can take anywhere between four and 12 weeks for symptoms to occur.

"An animal can move in a lot of areas and that's the other thing that makes it really, really difficult for us to put our finger on exactly where they've picked it up," she said.

Tough to track

The fungus that causes blastomycosis is typically found in acidic soil where there's rotting organic material, such as dead trees, according to Donna Stanley, the manager of infectious diseases at the Northwestern Heath Unit's office in Dryden, Ont.

She also noted that there's no evidence of any dramatic increase of the illness in the region, although reported instances can spike from time-to-time. Blastomycosis is not transmitted between animals or people.

It's also not a reportable disease as far as public health is concerned, Stanley added, meaning that doctors or hospitals that record positive tests don't have to share the findings with the health unit. That results in incomplete data, she said. Additionally, doctors may not think to specifically test for blastomycosis when a patient comes in sick, Stanley said.

Pet owners can take some basic precautions to minimize the risk of exposure, Thompson said, including keeping watch over how much your dog digs or rolls around in the dirt, or takes shelter in cavernous areas, like under a deck or camp.

Some symptoms in dogs can include wounds that don't heal properly or a persistent cough or apparent shortness of breath, Thompson added. In people, they can resemble the appearance of any number of illnesses including the common cold, pneumonia, skin infections or even cancer.

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