A fungus usually found in tropical climates has been linked to the deaths of at least three people on Vancouver Island, raising concerns that climate change may be responsible. The fungus, called Cryptococcus neoformans variety gattii, attacks the central nervous system. The fungus is found in some decomposing organic material in forests, on the leaves and bark of certain exotic trees, and in some bird droppings.
FROM SEPT. 2, 2001: B.C. fungus outbreak prompts health warning. Researchers don’t know how the tropical fungus got to B.C., or how it survived Vancouver Island’s temperate climate. Changing weather patterns may be making the island more suitable for the fungus, said Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria. “It’s warmed by .6 degrees,” said Weaver. “[It] may not sound like a lot, but that means the summers are warmer and the winters are wetter.”
Researchers at the University of British Columbia said the attack rate is quite low and the illness remains rare. The infection can be easily treated if it is caught early, said Dr. Karen Bartlett of the UBC School of Environmental Hygiene. UBC postdoctoral researcher Sarah Kidd and her colleagues are taking environmental samples on the mainland to try to determine if the fungus has spread throughout the province. Public health authorities are making sure doctors know how to spot symptoms of infection, which include chest pains, a stubborn cough, severe headaches, neck stiffness and difficulty breathing.