C Gattii the Newest Threat to our Health

I recall a commercial from a couple of decades ago that warned us that “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”  I would like to add to that catch phrase, and issue an even more dangerous warning when I say, ”It’s not nice to fool around with Mother Nature!”

God gave us a clean planet with pristine sweet water; clear, blue, unpolluted skies; and unscathed forests.  He gave us valleys and flat lands where the soil was so fertile that a carelessly tossed seed would grow into a plant or tree with little help from mankind.

Then, he made us stewards of that planet, to work along with Mother Nature and to keep it clean and beautiful for the future generations.  So, what did we do to it?  

We built factories that belched chemicals and irritating smoke into the air; we dumped the residue of garbage and slops into the once clean waters; we burned the rain forests and cleared the mountain ranges from the foliage and trees in the greedy rush for more land; and we despoiled God’s gift and stirred up all kinds of illness and disease in the process.

And now, we are being introduced to the newest member of this cast.  It is an airborne fungus called Cryptococcus gattii, or C. gatti, and it can be deadly.  This strain is acting a little differently from earlier strains due to the fact that it is attacking otherwise healthy people. There is no way to prevent it, since it is airborne and inhaled.

This species is native to tropical and subtropical regions such as New Guinea, Australia, and parts of South America however it is now in the United States, and it has adapted to a very different climate than the original strain.

The outbreak has already killed six people in Oregon, that is 25% of those infected, and has moved into California and Idaho at last reports. The organism also attacks animals, but cannot be transmitted from person to person.

Fungal diseases are less common than viral or bacterial diseases, but what makes them unusual is that they reproduce because they have sex!  That means each offspring comes from a new combination of genes.  Although there is treatment through antibiotics, you need to be diagnosed in the early stages.  The antibiotic of today may not work on a newer strain because of the changes in the DNA.

There are several symptoms to watch for and they include: severe headache, chills, fever, cough, night sweats, weight loss, and shortness of breath.  Since these symptoms are prominent in so many other health problems, it is important to see your physician as soon as possible to begin treatment.

This fungus is found not only in the air, but it is in the trees and the soil, so it is very likely to spread to other states soon.  It has been dubbed the “killer fungus” by some, but that scenario is not one to which all health organizations agree.  It is true that it can turn bad and it can cause other potentially lethal conditions such as meningitis and pneumonia. but the experts tell you not to lock yourself up in your rooms and avoid human contact, nor should you cancel your plans for a vacation or a business trip.  Just be aware, and in doing so, be forewarned.
We have always had sickness, ever since Eve found Satan so irresistible that she convinced Adam to join her in eating the forbidden fruit, and along with that original sin, mankind opened up a whole can of dangerous and lethal worms, or bugs as it happens.  

We had the bubonic plague when man was so filthy that he neglected to keep his body clean and never bothered to bury his disgusting waste. This act of unclean disregard made way for rats to multiply and flourish.  They, in turn, attracted fleas that turned out to be man’s worst enemy in the 14th century unleashing a horrible death that spread across Europe.  Somewhere between 25% and 50% of Europe’s population fell victim to that pestilence.  Man had such disregard for his fellow man that the rotting corpses of the victims were catapulted over city walls, thereby infecting others.  BUT, that was hundreds of years ago, and man has since learned the importance of cleanliness.  Or has he?

That old plague is still around today.  The World Health Organization states that there are still nearly 3000 cases of the plague each year, mostly in Africa, but about a dozen or so are reported in the U. S.

Certainly, we have overcome many other diseases and illnesses that have tormented and killed so many of our loved ones down through the years.  Our chemists and doctors often work hand in hand to develop new marvel drugs to help us fight this invasion by lethal bugs that are invisible to the naked eye.

In the last century alone, we have made great strides in this direction.  We have overcome the dreaded polio with Dr. Saulk’s vaccine.  We have discovered injections against the flu bug that attacks us each year.  There are new clinical trials that may lead to the end of the scars that cancer has left on this world.  We have for the most part stopped small pox, according to the WHO with an aggressive immunization campaign beginning in 1967.

Tuberculosis, yellow fever, leprosy…the list goes on and on and man just keeps fighting these ancient afflictions and all the new diseases that are dangerous to man.  

There are always new strains of flu to contend with, such as the avian and swine flu.  We have eboli and anthrax, and dozens of others, and even though it seems Mother Nature has had her fill of man and his terrible pollution of this orb we call home, we will perserver until God decides enough is enough.

C gattii is probably going to cause some misery to this nation as it moves ever onward into warmer climates.  Scientists at Duke are calling for vigilance and awareness and doctors admit that increased research may be wise, but at this point they are viewing this new development as more of a curiosity than a threat….so who do we listen to?


National Geographic News April 2010