Fungal disease on the rise in Minnesota

September 11, 2019 07:44 AM

(ABC 6 News) The Minnesota Department of Health warns blastomycosis cases are on the rise.  

"People can get infected by blastomycosis by being exposed to the fungus. The fungus lives in the soil, especially in cool, damp areas with a lot of vegetation,” said Dr. Pritish Tosh, Infectious Disease Specialist with Mayo Clinic. 


It can cause pneumonia and other severe infections. 

"Usually the fungus comes in by inhaling it when you are around it, often people who are hunting or hiking or otherwise people who are in an area with a lot of this fungus in the soil,” said Dr. Tosh. 

According to Epidemiologist Dr. Malia Ireland with the Minnesota Department of Health, 31 cases were reported at this time last year. Already this year, at least 43 cases have been reported. 

"I think this has just been an environmentally favorable year for it. It's been one of the wettest years in Minnesota and there was a lot of flooding. Between that extra water and flooding turning over the dirt, that can really release more spores into the air,” said Dr. Ireland.

Because of environmental conditions, the fungus is most commonly found in Northeastern Minnesota, but can exist across the state. 

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Health, 123 people were likely exposed to the fungus in St. Louis County in Northeastern Minnesota from 1999 to 2018.

In that same time period, ten people were likely exposed  to the fungus in Olmsted County. 

Dr. Tosh said there are some warning signs to look out for. 

"Often people will develop a cough or fevers; often they develop really high fevers and have difficulty catching their breath. If that's the situation they really need to see a physician and get that checked out,” he said. 

In 2018, 14% of all cases were fatal, which is why Dr. Ireland said spotting the signs early is key. 

"Frequently people are treated with numerous rounds of antibiotics before they even have a diagnostic test for blastomycosis. That's the most important thing is to start thinking of it a little bit earlier in the course of an illness,” said Dr. Ireland. 

It has an incubation period of about 45 days, meaning if you went up North this summer, you could start seeing symptoms this fall.


Talia Milavetz

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