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Fungal Infection in MI Paper Mill Results in Illness, Death

— April 26, 2023

A paper plant fungal outbreak leaves some employees dead, many others sick.

A rare fungal infection outbreak has resulted in the death of a Michigan mill contractor and 12 or more others to be hospitalized. The fungus is Blastomycosis, which is not infectious from one person to another but infects those who inhale spores. Exposure to decaying wood or moist soil is often the cause of infection.

Twenty-one confirmed, and 76 likely cases are connected to the Michigan Billerud Paper Mill. Symptoms include cough, fatigue, and fever. Severe cases spread to the lungs and other body parts. The 97 confirmed and likely cases are visitors, contractors, and mill employees.

A statement by operations vice president Brian Peterson expressed deep sadness. He further added anyone working at the facility is part of the company’s team, and those affected are being held in the company’s thoughts and close to their hearts.

Blastomycosis is a rare fungal infection. In 2019, approximately 240 cases were reported across the nation. A study by the CDC found that the fungal infections were more prevalent in the Upper Midwest. Infection rates were higher in Wisconsin and Minnesota than in other states.

Fungal Infection in MI Paper Mill Results in Illness, Death
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

It is not known precisely when the infection started at the paper mill. The first visit by the CDC investigators took place last month. They recommended additional safety measures, such as using N-95 masks.

The mill will be closed temporarily for cleaning. It may take three weeks to facilitate National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and other organization recommendations. President and CEO of Billerud, Christoph Michalski, stated that larger portions of the mill would be vacant while the work was being done.

Federal investigators plan to step up the probe into the rare and potentially fatal fungal infections. The team plans to return to the Escanaba mill from April 20 to April 29. Investigators will offer urine screening for missed infections among employees, collect samples from the campus, and administer questionnaires to aid in tracking the source.

Typical Blastomycosis Symptoms

Referred to as ‘the great pretender,’ Blastomycosis can be mistaken for other diseases. Blastomyces gilchristii or Blastomyces dermatitidis usually enter through the respiratory tract and travel to the lungs. Approximately 50 percent of people who inhale spores develop symptoms.

The symptoms of fever, cough, and chest pain are typical of respiratory infection. Fatigue, weight loss, joint pain, muscle aches, and night sweats may also occur. With such respiratory symptoms, blastomycosis is not the first thing that comes to mind. It is not high on the list of any diagnosis.

There may be a three-week to three-month delay between the inhalation of spores and the development of symptoms. The infection ranges from mild to severe. Someone infected may develop acute pneumonia that turns chronic and lasts a long time.

It can even develop into ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). Symptoms and imagining results are indistinguishable from common bacterial pneumonia or severe problems like lung career or tuberculosis.


Fungal outbreak tied to Michigan paper mill leaves at least 1 dead, 12 hospitalized

Blastomycosis Fungal Outbreak In Michigan Paper Mill: 1 Dead, 12 Hospitalized

At least 1 dead, 96 sickened in fungal outbreak that shuttered Michigan paper mill

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