3 dead after suspected blastomycosis outbreak in Constance Lake First Nation | CBC News

Three people have died following a suspected outbreak of blastomycosis, a fungal lung infection, in the Constance Lake First Nation, northwest of Timmins, Ont.

Luke Moore, 43, died on Nov. 19. His family said he was treated in the northeastern Ontario town of Hearst for pneumonia symptoms, before the community suspected blastomycosis.

His father, Arthur Moore, said his son is now in Toronto, where they are awaiting results on the cause of his death. While the family says that death and two others in the community have been linked to blastomycosis, the chief has said that hasn’t been confirmed.

Luke Moore’s mother, Elizabeth Moore, said her son was healthy and strong. She added he was well-liked in the community.

“And he has some beautiful grandchildren here in this home,” she said.” After asking about grandpa, we are telling them that grandpa’s in heaven.”

In a Facebook video published on Sunday, Chief Ramona Sutherland said 11 people had shown signs of infection at that time. She also confirmed a dog died, possibly from the infection.

In a followup video on Monday, Sutherland said four cases of the infection have been confirmed so far, through laboratory tests.

Sutherland said the band council planned to declare a state of emergency later in the day.

She added five community members have been transferred to hospitals in the region for treatment.

A fungal infection

Blastomycosis is an infection caused by a fungus called blastomyces. Symptoms include a fever, cough, night sweats, chest pain, fatigue and muscle aches.

Severe cases can spread from the lungs to other parts of the body, such as the skin, bones and joints, and the central nervous system.

The fungus is generally found in the soil in certain wooded areas in North America, said Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“What happens is that people, you know, maybe they’re walking through the woods or they’re moving piles of wood or decay or leaves and they inhale it,” Banerji said. “So it’s spread through inhalation.”

Not spread between people

She said the infection cannot be spread between people. It can be fatal if someone has a weakened immune system, but is also treatable with a common antifungal.

“It’s not something that’s widespread to all of Ontario,” Banerji said, about the fungus that causes the infection.

Chief Sutherland urged anyone in the community with symptoms to go to the hospital as soon as possible.

“Do not think you can tough this out, just go to a hospital,” she said.

She said the community was working closely with Health Canada, and in contact with hospitals in larger urban centres in northeastern Ontario, in case anyone needed to be airlifted for treatment.

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