What is Cryptococcus Gattii (C. Gattii)?

What is Cryptococcus Gattii (C. Gattii)?
A recent article we read on our friends blog at MBL Laboratories, advised that a rare fungal disease, cryptococcosis, is currently spreading throughout Canada and the Northwestern US.
Cryptococcosis is a soliborne fungus and associated with certain trees such as eucalyptus, pine or fir trees and was previously only known in warmer climates throughout the tropics, most prevalently in Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia. However, it has been suggested that it has emerged as a problem in the cooler areas of Canada, particularly British Columbia, and the Northwestern USA, because of Global Warming.

C. Gattii is not transmitted from person to person. Rather it is transmitted by inhaling the spores. Once inhaled, the spores travel through the respiratory tract and enter the lungs and become lodged deep in the lung tissue. After infecting the lungs, C. Gattii cells travel through the bloodstream and will infect other areas of the body, including the brain.
The website, Through Mike’s Eyes, provides a daily journal of symptoms experienced by a victim of C. Gattii. Listed below are some of the most common symptoms:
1. Fever;
2. Night sweats;
3. Decreased alertness/confusion;
4. Severe headache;
5. Prolonged cough (lasting weeks or months);
6. Unexplained shortness of breath;
7. Sharp chest pains;
8. Unintended weight loss;
9. Skin infection;
10. Sensitivity to light; and
11. Neck pain/stiffness
According to the CDC, symptoms of C. Gattii infection are estimated to begin anywhere from 2 to 14 months after exposure to the fungus.
C. Gattii is diagnosed through a microscopic examination of body fluids such as blood, cerebrospinal fluid, and sputum and requires treatment with prescription antifungal medication for a period of 6 months or longer.
The earlier the infection is caught, the better, particularly for the elderly and individuals with weakened immune systems. Other complications that can arise from C. Gattii include the growth of invasive nodules in the brain or lungs, fungal pneumonia, meningitis and skin infections.
To learn more about C. Gattii and keep up with on-going research, please visit the website created by the British Columbia Cryptococcal Working Group, an excellent resource.
In 2009, the CBC aired a documentary on this fungus and provides an excellent summary as well.