April 1, 2008

Rare Lung Infection Linked to Fungus from Iowa Governor’s Mansion

An investigation into the cause of 36 confirmed cases of a rare lung ailment has been linked to a historical governor's mansion in Des Moines, Iowa.

Associates of the American Lung Association met for an event at the mansion, named Terrace Hill, on Nov. 29. Since then, the doctors have reported cases of histoplasmosis, a rare but treatable fungus-related lung disease.

"Those people had only one thing in common, and that was Terrace Hill," said Patricia Quinlisk, the state's chief epidemiologist. "Other things happened, linked them, but they seemed to drop away. There was a correlation."

However, neither Gov. Chet Culver nor his wife, Mari, was found to have the condition. Both attended the meeting at the mansion, which was built in 1869.

"We are waiting for the test results so we can say, 'Aha, it really was there," Quinlisk said.

Airborne funguses from bird or bat droppings are known to be the cause of histoplasmosis. Sometimes they can be re-awakened by building renovations.

The extensive investigation has revealed valuable information, officials said.

"We had some folks get fairly sick," said Tom Newton, the director of the state Public Health Department. "They needed to get on anti-fungal drugs and in some cases are still recovering. But it is a teachable moment. ... It gives us a chance to test our public health system and to learn from it."

In 1978, histoplasmosis was the cause of an epidemic that resulted in the infection of 100,000 people in Indianapolis. About 300 were sent to hospitals, and fifteen people died.

Terrace Hill became the official site of the Iowa governor's mansion in 1977.


On the Net:

Terrace Hill

American Lung Association