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New fungus puts the panic back in picnic

A deadly new airborne fungus has emerged from the depths of Oregon’s forests. It indiscriminately kills one in four animals and people it infects.

The new strain known as VGIIc of the fungus Cryptococcus gatti does not spread from animal to animal, instead it spreads from inhaling spores released by amples of the fungus that infect trees.

Symptoms typically appear two to four months after exposure. Most people never develop symptoms, but those infected may have a cough lasting weeks, sharp chest pain, shortness of breath, headache related to meningitis, fever, nighttime sweats and weight loss.  Symptoms in animals are a runny nose, breathing problems, nervous system problems and raised bumps under the skin.

The fungus C. gattii originally linked with eucalyptus trees in tropical and subtropical climates. The first known outbreak in North America happened in temperate climes on Vancouver Island in 1999 that has now spread into Washington and Oregon, where it infects local trees. This earlier strain, VGIIa/major, has killed nearly 9 percent of 218 patients.

After comparing the genes of the new VGIIc strain from Oregon with others, researchers suggest the new strain most likely arose recently, parallel to the outbreak that began on Vancouver Island. So far it has killed five out of 21 patients analyzed in the United States, a nearly 25-percent mortality rate

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