U.W. Health has a warning for hunters, especially up north

Spores from a fungus that's seemingly everywhere in Wisconsin's outdoors can cause blastomycosis.
Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 4:10 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - As hunters prepare to hit the woods, U.W. Health issued a health warning about a toxic fungus that can cause a serious respiratory illness.

The fungus is found throughout Wisconsin, especially in northern parts of the state. When people or animals, such as dogs, disrupt the moist soil, mold spores become airborne. Those spores, if inhaled, can cause blastomycocis, a dangerous respiratory illness.

Symptoms may not appear for 3 weeks or 3 months as the fungus colonizes in the lungs.

Symptoms are similar to a mild case of the flu, such as an unusual rash, fever, coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. It can develop into pneumonia and become fatal as the colony overwhelms the lungs. It can be treated with an antifungal, so tell your doctor about your outdoor activities in the last 3 months.

“If it’s not diagnosed and treated, it can be fatal. So it is really important, particularly in this state, where we know people get exposed as sure as the snow flies every year, we know people are getting exposed, and they need to be treated to avert a bad outcome,” Dr. Bruce Klein, one of the leading researchers on blastomycosis, said.

Klein says the fungus is usually found along rivers and streams but also among leaves, pine needles and decaying wood -- which is what makes it so difficult to avoid in Wisconsin’s outdoors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Wisconsin has one of the highest rates of blastomycosis in the nation -- 10 to 40 cases for every 100,000 people compared to 1 or 2 cases in other states.

Doctors point out people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable.