Author Topic: International Falls, Minnesota: Local vet says Blasto cases on the rise  (Read 3575 times)

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Local vet: Blasto cases on the rise
International Falls Daily Journal
October 22, 2011

A local veterinarian says that he’s seeing what appears to be an increase in the cases of dogs with blastomycosis, a fungal infection that can, if not treated quickly, cause severe illness and death.

The infection affects people, dogs and occasionally cats and is caused by an organism known as blastomyces dermatitidis commonly found near waterways in soil rich in decaying vegetation.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health says that blastomycosis is most common in St. Louis, Itasca, and Beltrami counties within Minnesota’s 87 counties.

“Going off memory, we are able to come up with at least five cases in just this year,” said Dr. Wayne Hasbargen, Rainy River Veterinary Hospital in International Falls.

Shelly Morin, office manager at Falls Veterinary Clinic, said Dr. Wade Himes has treated a few cases of blastomycosis at the clinic, but not an unusually high number this year.

Each year brings a few cases of the infection to the vet, she said.

She noted that the counties surrounding Koochiching and places in Ontario have a much higher incidence of the infection.

“There are places you can’t go to in Canada without your dog getting it,” she said. “It’s because of the dead and decaying vegetation.”

A person or animal becomes infected with blastomycosis by inhaling airborne spores from the mold form of the organism. The blastomyces fungus thrives in wet environments, such as riverbanks, lakes and swamps, where damp soil lacking direct sunlight fosters growth of the fungus. It is also present in areas that are rich in decaying matter, such as wooded areas, forests, and farms. It is a naturally occurring North American fungus, with the highest prevalence of infection taking place in geographic areas located near water.

Symptoms and signs of blastomycosis vary and may include:

• loss of appetite

• depression

• fever

• coughing

• pain

• skin lesions

Hasbargen called blastomycosis “a very sneaky infection” in that it can appear to be other diseases as initial symptoms begin to appear.

If you suspect blastomycosis in you or your pet, it is recommended that the appropriate health official be contacted immediately.

“One of the bad things about blasto infections is that we frequently don’t see the animal in our office until the infection is relatively bad already,” said Hasbargen.

However, he notes, if the infection is caught early, “we have a good chance at beating it.”

Meanwhile, care must be taken to test properly for this condition, since it is commonly misdiagnosed, which can lead to permanent or fatal damage. It may be mistaken for cancer and mistreated, or it may be mistaken for a lung infection of bacterial origin and treated with antibiotics, which may put a pet at greater risk.

All positive canine blastomycosis cases must be reported to the Board of Animal Health.

Treatment is generally done at home, using oral dosages of an antifungal medication. The medication is relatively expensive and must be administered for a minimum of 60 days, or one month after all signs of blastomycosis have disappeared.

The disease is not transmitted via person-to-person or person-to-animal contact. People with pets with this infection cannot contract the disease from their pet.

However, notes the board, people may be at risk of the disease in the same way their dog is: by inhaling spores from the same environmental source, such as in the damp, dark wooded areas around Borderland.

The Minnesota Department of Health, in conjunction with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, is studying blastomycosis in dogs to better define areas in the state where the disease is found. Canine cases are more numerous than human cases and the location of exposure can often be more easily identified.

Prevention of the infection is difficult, according to PetMD. The only useful recommendation that can be given is to avoid lakes and streams where risk of exposure is greatest. This is, admittedly, an impractical suggestion for most, but avoiding the dense, dark areas where the fungus could thrive may reduce risk of exposure.

In addition, spores may be more likely to go airborne during dry weather, when the contaminated dust is lighter. It is not easy to predict exactly where the blastomyces organism may be growing, and is thus difficult to avoid entirely.