Persons of Hmong ethnicity may be at a greater risk of contracting blastomycosis, according to the results of a study by the Marathon County Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released today.
Blastomycosis is a fungal infection that causes symptoms similar to the flu and can be deadly in extreme cases. Little new information beyond the increased risk to Hmong was gleaned from the study, county health officials said.
The study did not identify a reason that Hmong may be more vulnerable to the disease. It also debunked previous speculation that people who work outdoors or engage in more outdoors activities are more susceptible to becoming ill.
Marx said the county’s health department plans to work with the Hmong Association to spread awareness of the disease’s symptoms.
In 2010, two Marathon County residents died after contracting the disease. A total of 55 people contracted blastomycosis last year in Marathon County — with cases clustered in the Weston and Wausau areas. The unusually high number of cases prompted the study, and health officials hoped it would generate new information about the elusive fungus.
But public health officials are left to give the same advice to residents of Marathon County: be aware of the disease’s symptoms.
“The study confirmed what we know and what we don’t know,” Marathon County Epidemiologist Ruth Marx said.
Cases of blastomycosis dipped dramatically this year. Only 16 cases were reported, with no clusters of location or timing, Marx said