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The Sneaky Deadly Disease

We have had a mild winter and an early spring here in the Midwest. Ticks are out and mosquitos will follow soon. While most attention is on diseases like Lyme and heartworm there is an insidious organism lurking where your dog may like to play or explore.

Little Murphy came to our clinic with a chronic cough. Because of his breed ( Shih tzu ) heart disease and airway disease were first on the list of possible causes for his coughing. He had been seen by another clinic before us and had a reasonable diagnosis of pneumonia made. Antibiotic therapy was not helping so we radiographed his chest and there were some strange findings. While the picture was not classic for the disease, the changes in his lungs and his history made us suspect Blastomycosis. This disease is not always easy to diagnose and there had been a delay in making the diagnosis for Murphy. His version of the disease was particularly aggressive and in spite of treatment he passed away.

Blastomycosis is what is referred to as a systemic fungal disease, as opposed to something like ringworm which only affects the skin. Blasto, as it is commonly called, affects every organ system in the body. It is found in the environment in various areas of the country: Mid Atlantic states , Great Lakes area and some Canadian provinces. Environments with water sources, sandy soils, and decaying vegetation are prime areas for this organism to live and for dogs to get infected. Episodes of heavy rainfall tend to bring the spores to the surface and increase infection rates. The disease is seen more in sporting type younger dogs as they have greater opportunities to be in areas that harbor the fungus.

After inhaling the spores the disease usually starts in the lungs but can migrate to the bones, eyes, lymph nodes, skin, and other organ systems. Symptoms start to occur from 5-12 weeks after infection so it is a slow onset which can make it harder to diagnose. If you live in an area where Blasto has been reported it is extremely important that you are aware and that you watch your dog for any symptoms that can be associated with the disease because there is no prevention for it. Signs that can signal Blasto that you might see are coughing or breathing problems, open draining skin lesions, eye problems, or swollen lymph nodes.

Don't be afraid to let your veterinarian know you are concerned about Blasto if you see any of these symptoms. If treated early about 50- 75% of cases can make a full recovery. The course of treatment is long - up to 6-8 months and can be expensive.

Humans can be infected with Blasto also so if your dog contracts this disease be aware of any symptoms you may have also. You cannot catch this disease from your dog, it must be contracted from the soil. The only way to prevent this disease is to stay from areas that may harbor the organism as described above.


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