Mar 28, 2002

State Officials Urge Citizens to be Aware of Rare Disease

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

RALEIGH -- With the diagnosis of a seventh case of blastomycosis in Duplin County, state health officials urged people with persistent lower respiratory tract symptoms to see their doctors.

The rare fungal infection has been discovered in seven people in the Warsaw area since Dec. 7.

One, an 82-year-old man, died March 21 after a monthlong hospital stay. Milton DeLuca died at a rehabilitation center in Rocky Mount.

The others have recovered or continue to be treated. They include four students at James Kenan High School in Warsaw and two men in their 30s. DeLuca lived near the high school.

The rare fungal infection is caused by inhaling spores of a mold species known as blastomyces dermatitidis that is commonly found in moist soil throughout the Southeast.

Blastomycosis is not contagious. Symptoms can range from joint pain and skin lesions to severe respiratory infections that only respond to treatments with anti-fungal medication.

Because symptoms vary, blastomycosis can be misdiagnosed. Except in fairly well-developed stages of the infection, there is no good diagnostic test.

Once correctly diagnosed, blastomycosis usually can be treated with anti-fungal drugs.

In May 2001, a 45-year-old Duplin County man died of blastomycosis.

The previous confirmed incidence of blastomycosis in North Carolina was about 15 to 20 years ago in Halifax County, said Bill Furney, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.