An alert has been issued on the spreading of Cryptococcus gattii from the Vancouver Island to Mainland British Columbia (CBC News, Friday, June 03). What is this Cryptococcus gattii? It is a yeast-like fungus belonging to a group of fungi called Basidiomycetes (where mushrooms also belong!). This fungus was thought to have a restricted geographic distribution in the tropics and subtropics. It is has been reported in Australia, Papua New Guinea, parts of Africa, the Mediterranean region, India, south-east Asia, Mexico, Brazil, Paraguay and Southern California. The BC report was the first outside the tropics and subtropics.
Cryptococcus gattii has an unusual association with trees. In Australia it is associated with some Eucalyptus trees. In British Columbia, however, Cryptococcus gattii has been recovered from multiple species of native trees, but not from any of the introduced Eucalyptus species. It has been isolated from soil, barks of trees and from the air.
Unlike indoor moulds and yeasts, Cryptococcus gattii is a true pathogen and therefore can infect even healthy people. It has a preference for respiratory and nervous systems of humans and animals. Exposure to humans is mainly through inhalation of airborne spores into the lungs.
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