Bat feces sparked infection outbreak

Reno of Quebec home sickened 14 people

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TORONTO -- Renovating may be all the rage when its comes to older homes, but in some cases there could be danger lurking behind those long-standing walls.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/01/2014 (3195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TORONTO — Renovating may be all the rage when its comes to older homes, but in some cases there could be danger lurking behind those long-standing walls.

That was the case in Quebec, where more than a dozen people became ill with a pneumonia-like infection after the exterior brick of a century-old house was removed during a reno.

The outbreak, which occurred in May, was reported Thursday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly morbidity and mortality report.

Fourteen people — including workers, residents and neighbours –developed symptoms of histoplasmosis, a fungal disease carried in the droppings of bats and birds. Two of the workers were admitted to hospital and the public health department was called in.

“We had a declaration from a family doctor who had seen two cases, and he was astute enough to realize that something was probably going on at (their) work,” said Dr. Jean-Luc Grenier, a medical consultant at the Laurentians Public Health Department and a co-author of the CDC report.

The home was owned by a married couple who lived on the ground floor of the two-storey house and rented the upper floor to two tenants. The couple had decided to renovate because the exterior brick walls were cracked.

“There were probably some bats that were able to live there in between the bricks and the (interior) walls,” Grenier said of the home, located in Saint-Eustache, Que., northwest of Montreal.

Over the years, bat droppings containing histoplasmosis spores would have built up inside the walls, he said. As the bricks were pulled down, clouds of dust carrying the dried spores would have become airborne and easily breathed in by anyone nearby.

Grenier said an investigation determined 30 people had been exposed to the spore-laden dust. Of those, 14 got sick with symptoms of histoplasmosis infection, which include high fever, coughing and chest pain.

Those affected included six masonry workers, the two homeowners, a visitor to the house, two neighbours whose bedroom faced the demolition site, and three debris sorters. The two renters within the home did not get sick.

The debris sorters weren’t located in Saint-Eustache, but in the Lanaudère region many kilometres away and were exposed to histoplasmosis spores.

To remove the health risk, all the bricks taken for recycling were buried, while heavy rain over a few days at the renovation site would have washed away lingering spores, Grenier said.

All of those sickened recovered and none needed treatment with antifungal medication. In rare cases, histoplasmosis can be fatal, even with antifungal therapy.

— The Canadian Press

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