Cryptococcus gattii: Cases in Oregon

In 1999, a rare fungus was identified in British Columbia and, in 2004, the first case of the fungus in a human was identified in the Pacific Northwest. The fungus, Cryptococcus gattii, (or C gattii), is a new strain of the fungus, which, in very rare cases, causes a treatable infection in humans and animals.

Usually found in the soil and on trees, the fungus spreads through the air. Other strains of the C gattii fungus exist, but mostly in subtropical areas, particularly Australia.

Public health officials stress that the fungus is extremely rare and severe disease occurs primarily in people who already have immune-compromising conditions or who have had organ transplants. Research into the fungus is ongoing and it is too early to release definitive data.

Preliminary numbers show that since 2004 there have been about 60 people identified with the illness in Washington, Oregon and California. About 15 people have died. The fungus has not been found to be transmitted from person to person. Symptoms include persistent cough, shortness of breath, headache, nausea, meningitis, or pneumonia.

"The fungus is rare, getting sick from the fungus is uncommon and, if people do get sick, there are treatments. The public health threat from the fungus is low," said Dr. Emilio DeBess, DVM, MPH, Oregon public health epidemiologist and veterinarian. "If people are concerned about their symptoms, they should contact their health care provider right away."

The disease has also been identified in animals such as goats, sheep, dogs, cats, ferrets, elk, horses, alpacas and porpoises.

Oregon DHS continues to do animal surveillance. If you have a case of a possible Cryptococcus, please contact DHS. DHS will pay for the culture and subtyping of the organism. Samples should be sent to OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Visit the DHS Web site for information about reportable diseases including leptospirosis, cryptococcus, fish disease and other important diseases. Please remember to report - it is voluntary!

Published: April 26, 2010

Source: Dr. Emilio DeBess, DVM, MPH, Oregon public health epidemiologist and veterinarian