Despite rumours on local social media sites, there is no evidence of a local fungus affecting more animals recently.
Cryptococcus gattii was first discovered in a local park in 1999 and has since spread to much of the east coast of Vancouver Island, and has been seen in the Lower Mainland and Washington State, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (CDC).
“In the 15 years since it was found in Rathtrevor I have probably seen eight cases,” said Dr. Jeff Grognet with the Mid-Isle Veterinary Hospital in Qualicum Beach.
He said it is evenly split between cats and dogs and while it tends to infect immune-suppressed people, there doesn’t seem to be any pattern in animals, with some being “healthy strapping young animals.”
He said he sees an average of one case every couple years, and joked that since he had one last year, he won’t see one this year.
The fungus, present in trees and soil across the region, is transmitted by inhaling spores from dead vegetation. According to the CDC, it infects 10-25 people a year in B.C. In 2014, the latest year numbers are available, 17 human infections were reported, including eight on the Island, with 16 per cent of infected people historically dying from it, or related complications.
The experts stress that it is not contagious, cannot be transmitted between humans, or from animals to humans. It is not preventable, there is no vaccine, but there is an easy blood test for it, and antifungal medication helps treat it.
The symptoms are similar in humans and animals, often taking many months to show up. They include a prolonged cough, shortness of breath, headache, vomiting, fever and weight loss.
Grognet said the most notable symptom in animals is nasal discharge and sneezing.
He stressed that the infection is rare and not a reason to avoid forested areas, which he often hears in the community amongst a lot of mis-information.
In fact, he points out that some infected animals, including some indoor cats, had no exposure to forested areas.
His best advice for people who don’t want to get cryptococcus: “don’t run through the forest licking the trees and holding your breath.”