1964 Alaska earthquake linked to spread of lethal fungal disease

1964 Alaska earthquake linked to spread of lethal fungal disease
Photo: Information About Alaska

Scientists claim that a major 1964 earthquake in Alaska triggered tsunamis that directly caused the spread of a lethal tropical fungus. In a recent study, researchers say that the fungal disease has now evolved to survive conditions in Pacific Northwest coasts and forests.

Since the first case of the pneumonia-like cryptococcosis emerged in the region back in the year 1999, over 300 cases have been recorded. About 10% of these were fatal. If the theory, published in the science journal mBio, is to be believed, this implicates other locations where tsunamis took place.

The fungal pathogen called cryptococcus gattii is majorly present in tropical regions and warmer areas around the world. These areas include Australia, Papua New Guinea and parts of Europe, Africa, and South America, with Brazil in particular.

Researchers involved in the study argue that the pathogen has traveled globally through the water carried by ballast tanks of ships. They say that an evolved version of the fungus has emerged off the coast of British Columbia and Washington state.

Curiosity about the pathogen rose when the first human infections were recorded in the area back in the year 1999. Now, the aforementioned study suggests that the 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake recorded at magnitude 9.2 played a key role in the fungal disease’s global spread.

Tsunamis were generated after the earthquake took place in the southeastern part of Alaska. Areas hit along the region’s coastline included Vancouver Island, Washington, and Oregon.

Dr. Arturo Casadevall, one of the study’s authors said: “We propose that C. gattii may have lost much of its human-infecting capacity when it was living in the seawater.”

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