A chef in Michigan died from a fungal infection that ravaged his body for months, amid signs the strain is growing across the United States.
Ian Pritchard, 29, of Petoskey, was taken off life support over the weekend at his own request after weeks of suffering and pain, according to his family, who said the fungus “made holes in his lungs.”
He was originally hospitalized around Thanksgiving with flu-like symptoms and transferred to a Detroit hospital for more intensive care, where he was diagnosed with blastomycosis.
His condition rapidly deteriorated as the spores penetrated deep into his lungs, infecting the tissue there, making them look like “Swiss cheese,” according to his father Ron.
Ian Pritchard was in a medically induced coma in a Detroit hospital before passing away over the weekend. Doctors were unable to eradicate the fungal infection, which would have prepared Ian for a life-saving lung transplant.
Blastomyces is more common than scientists previously knew and arises in many eastern states where it is not considered endemic.
The fungal infection was caused by exposure to the blastomyces fungus that lurks in soil, wet leaves and rotting wood throughout much of the Midwest.
Health officials have not found the source of Ian’s infection, but his social media is flooded with images of himself spending time outdoors shooting with friends and running with his black Labrador Retriever.
Infections in that region have increased in recent years, although the true number of victims of the fungus in the United States is unknown because the vast majority of states are not required to report them to the government.
Ian was a chef at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Harbor Springs called Rodrigo’s before he died.
his father ron saying: ‘He was a good boy. He didn’t get into much trouble, it wasn’t a problem raising him.
“People love his food, people love him.”
Ian was in hospital for months before succumbing to the infection on Saturday.
The week before Thanksgiving, he was admitted to the hospital.
The map above shows states where cases of blastomycosis have been confirmed (red), recently confirmed (orange), or suspected (blue).
While it’s not clear what your symptoms were at first, the early stages of blastomycosis infection usually resemble a flu-like illness.
Early symptoms include cough, fever, chills, muscle aches, joint pain, and chest pain.
Mr. Pritchard’s condition rapidly deteriorated and he was transferred to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. It was there that doctors determined that the cause of his infection was exposure to blastomyces.
In total, Ian was in the Detroit hospital for more than five weeks.
His father Ron said: “They showed us a photo of his lungs and they literally looked like Swiss cheese.”
Infection occurs when a person inhales spores of the blastomyces fungus, which is usually found on wet leaves, soil, and rotting wood. Infection from breathing the spores is rare and only about half of people exposed will experience symptoms.
The infection begins in the lungs, where the spores lodge in the lung tissue.
The immune system launches an attack against the infection, sending an army of white blood cells to the lungs. However, this causes inflammation in the lung tissue, leading to lasting damage.
Blastomycosis can spread through the bloodstream to different parts of the body, including the bones, brain, and other organs. That kills between four and 22 percent of his victims.
Antifungal treatments are available, including itraconazole and amphotericin B. But the infection evaded the antifungal medications, which meant Ian would not be able to receive a much-needed lung transplant.
Ron Pritchard’s co-workers set up a GoFundMe page to help the family defray the travel costs to stay with their child in the hospital and the medical bills that are piling up. Ian’s antifungal medications alone cost about $7,000 for a monthly supply.
The fungus is endemic in the upper Midwest, the region where hospitalizations for blastomycosis are most common.
Ian Pritchard, right, pictured with his father Ron Pritchard.
Ian is one of about half of people exposed to the fungus who get sick. The infection is fatal in up to 22 percent of cases.
According to an update on the GoFundMe page, Ian was receptive in his final days and it was his decision to let him go, asking his family to pull the plug.
The Pritchards have lost two children. The first was Ian’s older brother, who was stillborn at eight months. Both children were survived by their sister Megan, who was at Ian’s side when she passed away.
Blastomyces exposure is relatively common in the upper Midwest and areas surrounding the Great Lakes.
Ron Pritchard said, “It’s in the air, it’s in the trees, it’s in the wet leaves, it’s in the ground, it’s in the mud, it’s everywhere.” All of northern Michigan (in fact, the Midwest) is covered in (blastomyces).’
The true toll Blastomyces takes on a person’s health is not fully known because most states are not required to report infections.
Those reporting incidences of blastomycosis include Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
There is no indication yet that the fungus has gotten better at evading treatments, although it is a threat that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted with another type of fungus, Candida auris (C. auris).
There is only one to three cases per 100,000 people each year in states where blastomycosis is a reportable condition.
Scientists have warned that a steadily warming global climate will only make infections like blastomycosis more common.
As temperatures rise, fungi adapt to survive in those warmer climates. They also learn to survive better in the warm bodies of humans.
A 2022 report published in the Annals of internal medicine He said more than 10 percent of fungal infections are diagnosed outside of regions where the pathogens are known to be endemic.
Dr. George Thompson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of the report, saying: We are definitely seeing diseases in places we didn’t see before.
“And that’s concerning, because if we’re recognizing those places, where are the places where it’s happening that just haven’t been recognized yet?”