A rare but potentially life-threatening tropical fungus is spreading through the Pacific Northwest, researchers have reported.
The culprit is a new strain of the Cryptococcus gatti fungus, and is known to have been lethal in 25 percent of the reported human infections. C. gatti usually only infects transplant and AIDS patients and people with otherwise compromised immune systems, but the new strain is genetically different, the researchers said. “This novel fungus is worrisome because it appears to be a threat to otherwise healthy people” [Reuters], says lead researcher Edmond Byrnes.
However, scientists aren’t sounding a public health alert because the death toll is still very small–in the United States, five of the 21 people who contracted the fungus in the have died.
The new strain of the C. gatti fungus has been found in both humans and animals like cats, dogs, and sheep, researchers write in the journal PLoS Pathogens. Because its such a rare infection, researchers warn that physicians could potentially miss diagnosing it.