Fatal Fungal Outbreak at a Paper Mill in Michigan 

by Corey Bennett 

A recent fungal outbreak at a Michigan paper mill causes almost 100 people to be infected with a rare disease known as Blastomycosis. 

Blastomycosis is a fungal infection that emerges from a group of fungi known as Blastomyces. Dr. Teresa O’Meara, an assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Michigan says “These are fungi that live in the environment as a mold and they make spores,”. When someone inhales too many of these spores they can set up and almost evade some of the innate immune responses. This will cause pneumonia to spread throughout the body. The symptoms for this have been known as, fever and cough, people with weakened immune systems are at much higher risk of dying of this than others. 

One contractor, who worked at the Escanaba Billerud Paper Mill, died from Blastomycosis. After many other workers became sick and started ailing from pneumonia-type symptoms the mill was then under investigation. After doing some testing the mill tested positive for the fungal infection. The mill’s vice president Brian Peterson said in a statement that the officials were saddened by this death, “Anyone who works at our facility is part of our team, and we are keeping this individual, their family, coworkers, and friends in our thoughts and close to our hearts,” he says. Until further notice, the mill is suspended and will be for “up to three weeks”. This is for the safety of the mill’s employees and the contractors. 

The public health department has confirmed 21 cases of this infection since March, while more than 70 other cases have been reported. According to the Public Health Delta and Menominee Counties, 12 people so far have been hospitalized due to the outbreak. 

Other paper mills such as Billerud, a multinational paper and packaging company in Sweden, say that they have now implemented several safety measures and recommendations from public health experts since the outbreak in Michigan was identified. 

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