Cryptococcus gattii was considered to be a mold found only in semi tropical and topical climates until it was found recently in the Pacific Northwest. It seems to have adapted to the cool, wet environment on Vancouver Island, Canada and spread from there to western Canada, Washington (state) and Oregon. It may have already spread to Idaho and California.
Normally, Cryptococcus molds are capable of causing severe infections only in humans with compromised immune systems, such as AIDS and cancer patients or those undergoing immune system suppression for organ transplantation. Unlike other forms of Cryptococcus, C. gattii can affect persons with normal immune systems, resulting in severe pulmonary and neurological infections. According to epi Trends, (listserv.wa.gov/archives/epitrends), a monthly public health bulletin published by the Washington State Dept. of Health, as of 2005, there had been 129 human cases had been reported, of which, 4 had been fatalities.
Because this fungus is now present in the environment, there are no special precautions that can be taken to avoid coming into contact with C. gattii. Routine antibiotics for bacterial infection won’t work and may only serve to promote further bacterial resistance to the drugs. Treatment for C. gattii is the use of specific antifungal drugs.
Infection with C. gattii may produce sharp chest pain, prolonged cough, shortness of breath, fever, headache, and weight loss. Patients may seem to have meningitis or pneumonia, both of which have similar symptoms.
According to EMLAB P&K, one of the foremost mold testing labs in the U.S., C. gattii can be cultured and identified by the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. Presently, it cannot be distinguished under the microscope from other, related molds.