CDC, Department of Health investigating disease outbreak at La. camp; Boy Scouts hospitalized

Updated: Dec. 4, 2018 at 8:38 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Istrouma Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, along with the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH), have closed a campsite on Avondale Scout Reservation to investigate cases of a disease that hospitalized two campers, sparking the involvement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Louisiana State Epidemiologist Raoult Ratard, speaking for LDH, tells WAFB at least 15 campers may have been exposed to histoplasmosis, a disease spread through exposure to soil contaminated with bat or bird droppings.

Histoplasmosis is not contagious; it cannot be transmitted from an infected person or animal to another person and infection does not always result in illness. Symptoms, when present, usually begin three to 17 days post-exposure and range from mild conditions requiring no treatment to severe systemic illness which are frequently fatal when untreated, according to a report provided by LDH. The illness is typically flu-like, with symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue, chills, headache, chest pain, and body aches.

“We are aware of reports from Avondale Scout Reservation that some participants were experiencing possible respiratory illness. All of those impacted have received medical attention and two participants remain in medical care. Our thoughts are with those who became ill and we pray for their speedy recovery. We will continue to support them however we can,” said Gary Mertz, scout executive/CEO for Istrouma Area Council, Boy Scouts of America.

A spokesman for the CDC confirmed they were alerted to a case of histoplasmosis by LDH and are in communication with the department.

Ratard described the incident as isolated, saying investigators had located a tree frequented by birds where they believe the campers may have been exposed to the disease. Ratard did not predict there to be a greater risk to the public related to this outbreak, but offered a warning for community members to avoid disturbing risk areas, like holes in trees and piles of leaves where animal droppings carrying the disease may be out of sight. According to Ratard, those areas may become wet due to rainfall, hiding the droppings from plain sight when they dry.

In Louisiana’s history, only eight hospitalizations due to histoplasmosis have been confirmed between 1999 and 2014 in the region encompassing Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, Iberville, and Pointe Coupee parishes, according to information provided by LDH.

Avondale Scout Reservation will remain open as originally scheduled, as supported by LDH.

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