Is it COVID-19 or exposure to this fungus?

Is it COVID-19 or exposure to this fungus?

Summertime is filled with options for outdoor activities. Whether you are hiking, biking or spending time out on a lake, you are likely to encounter a fungus called Blastomyces. Dr. Raul Mendoza, pulmonologist at Aurora BayCare Medical Center says this fungus could cause a serious lung infection called Fungal Blastomycosis if inhaled by humans or pets. The fungus is commonly found in the Midwest, south-central and southeastern states of the U.S. and lives in the soil next to rivers and wetlands. The CDC says most people who breathe in spores don’t get sick, but Fungal Blastomycosis can turn serious in a matter of days if not treated properly.

Dr. Mendoza says some physicians in other parts of the country may have not heard of it before but being based in the Midwest he’s seen more than his fair share of the lung condition.

“For example, here in northern Wisconsin we have a lot of cases surrounding the Wolf River and in the city of Peshtigo. People who are exposed to wooded areas often, such as avid campers, hunters or do forestry work have a higher chance of breathing in Blastomyces spores,” says Dr. Mendoza. “While most do not get sick, people who are infected can go from zero to one hundred in a matter of hours or days and sometimes it can even kill a patient.”

Symptoms of Fungal Blastomycosis include shortness of breath, fever, cough, chills, night sweats, muscle aches, joint pain, weight loss and fatigue which are similar to symptoms of COVID-19. While COVID-19 is contagious, according to the CDC, Fungal Blastomycosis is not contagious.

“People with weakened immune systems are also at higher risk of developing a severe Blastomycosis infection,” says Dr. Mendoza.

While Fungal Blastomycosis is an infection caught while spending time outdoors, it is not a reason to stay inside. Dr. Mendoza says people should just stay vigilant and listen to their bodies. Fungal Blastomycosis is also treatable if caught early on and most people with healthy immune systems will be able to fight it off naturally.

“If you have symptoms, it is important to get tested for Blastomycosis and know that you can be treated,” says Dr. Mendoza. “If your dog’s not feeling well and you’re not feeling well either, get checked out and make sure to also have your furry friend examined,” he says.

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  1. We lost our father to Blastomycosis in 2011. He had a home up north and was very active with hiking, swimming, and biking. He was not aware of the threat of Blastomycosis. His immune system was compromised due to treatments for polymyalgia rheumatica (Prednisone). He lost his fight after 3 weeks in the ICU. The Aurora doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists did everything they could to try and save him. Be aware, this is a real threat to people living in the midwest, especially northern Wisconsin where his summer home was. It is also a great threat to dogs.

  2. Diane Henschke July 21, 2022 at 2:25 pm · Reply

    YES, please make people aware that this can also affect dogs! My friend’s dog had this, it was extremely painful for him and caused loss of sight in his right eye!

  3. PLEASE, if your dog starts to cough(and sounds almost human-like), get him or her to a vet ASAP. Our then 2 year old Weimaraner picked up blasto in Northern Wisconsin in 2013. Our vet did chest x-rays, which did not really show blasto. The next morning, he coughed up some phlegm. I immediately took it to the vet, and the lab test came up positive. He was on a very expensive medication (thank you, Roadrunner Pharmacy in Phoenix!)for 8 months, but survived with no after affects.
    There was a major outbreak at a dog beach in Chicago a few years ago, so don’t think it doesn’t happen around the Chicago area!

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About the Author

Cearron Bagenda
Cearron Bagenda

Cassie Richardson, health enews contributor, is regional coordinator on the Public Affairs team for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She previously worked as a TV news reporter and fill-in anchor covering medical, political, feature and breaking news stories at CBS 58 in Milwaukee, WBAY-TV ABC in Green Bay and NBC Nebraska- Scottsbluff. Cearron enjoys spending time outside with her three dogs, biking, traveling and interior decorating.