Health department forum on fungal disease helpful

The Marquette County Health Department has decided to hold a forum in Big Bay next month to educate the public about blastomycosis, which has been a concern to local residents since its discovery in several dogs and more recently, a Powell Township man.

The forum will be at 6 p.m. March 6 at the Powell Township Office in Big Bay.

Dr. Terry Frankovich, the western and central Upper Peninsula medical director for 10 counties, will provide information on the disease, which has been evidenced by 75 human cases scattered across the U.P. since 2003.

“Primarily, the reason (for the forum) is education and to allay some of the concerns people have,” Frankovich said. “Even though there’s no more evidence of risk than five or 10 years ago, I think whenever you have a case close to home it raises concerns.”

We think it’s great the health department is holding the forum. Shedding light on the situation with true facts about the potential risk of the disease, symptoms, treatments and preventive measures will help the Big Bay community better understand the situation at hand.

Marquette County Health Department Director Fred Benze said there have been three cases of blastomycosis in Marquette County since 2003, two which were associated with the Big Bay area. One of those was reported in 2005 and the second in 2012.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website said blastomycosis is a disease caused by the fungus Blastomyces dermatitidis.

“The fungus lives in moist soil and in association with decomposing organic matter such as wood and leaves. Lung infection can occur after a person inhales airborne, microscopic fungal spores from the environment; however, many people who inhale the spores do not get sick,” the website states. “The symptoms of blastomycosis are similar to flu symptoms, and the infection can sometimes become serious if it is not treated.”

Benze said there is more concern in other areas, including parts of Canada, than the U.P. about the disease, which can be treated with antifungal medicines.

“Blastomycosis is endemic to the U.P., it’s like mosquitoes and swimmer’s itch,” Benze said.

Since 2003, there were a total of 171 human cases of blastomycosis reported in Michigan, 44 percent of which were found in the U.P. Benze said Marquette County is the median of the region’s 15 counties, with the seventh highest incidence reported.

Benze said there has been a lot of misinformation about blastomycosis in the Big Bay area, especially related to the potential risk involved. We trust the forum will help Powell Township residents develop an informed viewpoint and that’s good medicine.