Michigan Paper Mill Fungal Infection Leaves 1 Dead and Nearly 100 Sickened

At least one individual has died and practically 100 folks have gotten sick in a uncommon fungal outbreak at a paper mill in Michigan, the well being authorities mentioned, prompting the plant to briefly shut as native and federal investigators attempt to establish the supply.

The outbreak of blastomycosis on the Billerud paper mill in Escanaba, Mich., has escalated since February.

Local well being authorities initially recognized about 15 probably circumstances. By mid-April, that quantity had grown to 21 confirmed circumstances and 76 possible circumstances. Twelve folks have been hospitalized and one individual has died.

All of the reported circumstances have been amongst employees, contractors or guests to the plant.

Billerud, a Sweden-based paper and packaging firm, mentioned on Thursday that it deliberate to shut the mill for 3 weeks to conduct a deep clear, examine air flow techniques, change filters and check numerous uncooked supplies coming into the mill, which employs about 830. folks. The extra cleansing requires giant parts of the mill to be empty, it mentioned.


“Identifying the supply may be troublesome as a result of the Blastomyces fungus is endemic to the realm,” the corporate mentioned in an announcement. “There has by no means been an industrial outbreak of this nature documented anyplace within the US”


Blastomycosis is an an infection related to the Blastomyces fungus, which grows in moist soil and decomposing matter, resembling wooden and leaves, and can turn into airborne if disturbed.

Blastomycosis infections are uncommon. In 2019, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 240 circumstances of blastomycosis in whole.

On common over the previous 5 years, solely 26 circumstances have been reported in all of Michigan, in accordance with the native well being company. However, the company famous, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a identified danger space for blastomycosis an infection.


According to the CDC, “Blastomycosis stays poorly understood.” The fungus primarily lives in Midwestern, South Central, and Southeastern states, particularly in areas across the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

Most individuals who breathe in Blastomyces spores won’t get sick. Symptoms embrace a cough (generally with blood), fever, chest ache, issue respiration, evening sweats, fatigue, weight reduction, muscle aches and joint ache. Symptoms seem between three weeks to a few months after publicity. Blastomycosis may be handled with antifungal medicines.

Symptoms for the preliminary sufferers began in January and February, the authorities mentioned.

A group led by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health visited the mill on March 27 and 28 after a request from Billerud, in accordance with an April 7 letter from Marcia Stanton, a well being scientist with the company, which was posted by CBS.

The company suggested the corporate to make N95 masks accessible to scale back potential publicity and to examine the air flow system and ductwork for “proof of water incursion and microbial development” whereas investigations continued.

On Saturday, the CDC mentioned in an announcement that it deliberate to return to the mill in late April to supply Blastomyces urine antigen screening assessments for potential publicity. Participation can be voluntary.


Investigators will use the check outcomes and a questionnaire “to tell an environmental sampling technique,” the company mentioned, including that the info would possibly assist to slender testing websites on the 2,000-acre mill.

“Our prime precedence now and at all times is defending the well being and security of our workers and contractors who work at our Escanaba mill,” Christoph Michalski, the president and chief government of Billerud, mentioned in an announcement. “We care deeply about their well-being and are doing every little thing we are able to to guard them and establish and handle the foundation reason behind the blastomycosis fungal infections.”

According to Billerud’s web site, the Escanaba mill started making paper in 1911 because the Escanaba Pulp and Paper Company. Today, the mill produces graphic papers utilized in industrial printing, advertising supplies and labels and has the capability to supply about 660,000 tons of paper per 12 months.


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