The lively Oregonian fungus Cryptococcus gattii has developed itself a nicely virulent new strain that is poised to move its way into California on a friendly southern wind. Scientists are calling for more research into the new strain, which, unlike its ancestor, can affect people with healthy immune systems. Doctors, however, are basically pleading for this to not become the big network news scare.
The symptoms of a C. gattii infection include chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, fever and a cough lasting weeks, and it is occasionally fatal in humans. As in eight deaths out of 216 infections, according to Wikipedia.
Oddly enough, doctors and scientists have noticed that this sort of thing tends to occupy the news media.
ABC News talked to William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University:
“If something new pops ups — if it’s novel, mysterious, and if it can strike seemingly anyone, anytime, you suddenly feel like you have no control over the situation. If the threat is disfiguring or life-threatening, if there’s no preventative measures you can take against it, these elements invoke fear.”
This reaction is known as behavioral conditioning, [Kim Liebowitz, director of cardiac behavioral medicine at Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago] said, and it means that one can develop strong negative reactions to a threat just by hearing about victims and identifying with them;- no personal experience with the risk required.
Here’s hoping C. gattii can keep a low profile. According to Schaffner, your odds of getting infected are on par with getting hit by lightning.
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