Health officials: No new blasto cases reported

The former Verso paper mill in Escanaba is pictured. The business is now owned by the Swedish company BillerudKorsnas. (Escanaba Daily Daily Press file photo)

ESCANABA — Public Health Delta and Menominee Counties announced Friday that no new cases of blastomycosis, a fungal infection that has affected more than 100 people who worked at or visited the Escanaba paper mill, have been reported since May 5.

To date, there have been a total of 118 cases of blastomycosis identified. Fourteen out of the 118 total cases have been hospitalized.

All 118 of the cases are either employees, contractors or visitors of the Billerud Paper Mill in Escanaba. There has been one previously reported death associated with this outbreak.

The incubation period the time from exposure to the fungus spores to the development of symptoms ranges from 21 to 90 days, and it is likely the cases all stemmed from exposures prior to the mill’s idling. The mill was idled on April 13 and resumed normal operations on May 8.

According to Billerud, no blastomyces spores have been found within the mill to date.

Blastomycosis is a disease ­associated with a fungus that grows in moist soil and decomposing matter, such as wood and leaves. People can get blastomycosis infection by breathing in fungal spores from the air. The disease does not spread from person to person or between animals and people.

Most people who inhale the fungal spores do not get sick. On average over the past five years, only 26 cases have been reported for the entire state annually.

However, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a known risk area for blastomycosis infection.

Those who do get sick can develop symptoms such as cough ­sometimes with blood fever, chest pain, difficulty breathing, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss, muscle aches, and joint pain.

Any persons experiencing these symptoms should contact their healthcare provider and discuss whether testing for blastomycosis is recommended.

Blastomycosis is treatable with antifungal medicines, but it is important to get diagnosed early. Most people with blastomycosis will need treatment with prescription antifungal medication.

Depending on the severity of the infection and the person s immune status, the course of treatment can range from six months to one year.

PHDM is continuing to work with Billerud Paper, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the outbreak.

In addition to the PHDM website, phdm.org, two additional websites have been launched to assist those who may be affected by the outbreak. NIOSH has established a site at www.cdc.gov/niosh/newsroom/alerts/blastomycosishhe.html and Billerud has established a site at escanabamillinfo.com.


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