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Hidden Dog Danger You Need To Know: Blastomyces Dermatididis

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A little-known toxin called Blastomyces dermatididis is a silent -- possibly deadly -- fungal organism that hides in places pet owners often take their dogs to play. One German Shepherd, Audrey, and her family discovered this the hard way, after Audrey inhaled it during a vacation in Northern Wisconsin. She is now suffering from Pulmonary Blastomycosis, a dangerous systemic disease.

Although Blastomyces dermatididis is widely distributed geographically, the infected area may be limited to one rotting log or several square yards of infected soil.  It thrives on decaying vegetation and wet soil and is usually found within 400 feet of water.

Pulmonary Blastomycosis is a very complicated disease to diagnose because it can be mistaken for other illnesses, such as pneumonia or kennel cough.  As the fungal infection grows, it affects respiratory functions and can impair other organs, skin, liver, kidney, bones and brain.  It weakens the immune system, which can lead to other complications. The symptoms are not the same for all dogs.  Other symptoms may include lethargy, high fever, difficulty breathing, coughing, aching chest pain and flu-like symptoms.  Chest X-rays, ultra sounds and blood work are needed to diagnose it.

Audrey's Story

As told by her owner: January 23rd, 2012, I brought Audry to the vet for a follow-up visit for what three days earlier was thought to be pneumonia or kennel cough.  Her breathing was rapidly becoming more difficult.  She was given an X-ray and, oddly, we were asked if we had been to Wisconsin lately. It turns out Wisconsin is a hotbed where a rare, life-threatening fungus called Blastomycosis hides. Yes, we had been there in October.
The vet's other preliminary diagnosis was cancer.  With it Audrey would only live a few days. Blastomycosis, however, would mean a long illness requiring expensive treatments and very close monitoring.  She would also need medications for 6-to-8 months just to get it under control.  After that, she would need ongoing observation to prevent relapse or recurrence.
The vet arranged for us to see the hospital specialist immediately. Audrey needed an IV as soon as possible.  Just three days earlier, Audrey had appeared so normal, and now, in shock, I had to call my partner and give her the devastating news that she might not be able see Audrey again.
At the hospital she was diagnosed with Blastomycosis with 97% certainty. But Audrey did not have three days to wait for the final blood work, so treatment began immediately for Pulmonary Blastomycosis.
The specialist warned us that she was in critical condition and that she might have complications during these first few weeks and, especially, these next few days.  In all his cases she was probably in the top three of difficulty.  She then developed Vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels.  Audrey's first stay in the hospital lasted seven days at a cost of $4,346.81.

We brought her home. But after two days of high fevers and severely stressed breathing, she was unable to eat and could barely stand up or walk, so she had to be readmitted to the hospital for more IV fluids and plasma.  Audrey was in such bad shape that her weight dropped quickly from 63.4 to 53 pounds.

By the second week we brought her home again. Now 50 pounds, she looked more frail than when we had first found her.  I thought about how we had to patiently start working on trying to save her life again.  Little did I know how much I was getting ahead of myself.

Day to Day

During this critical time we are dealing with changing symptoms, sometimes hour to hour.  The fungal die-off is affecting many different body systems.  Her day-to-day quality of life is limited.  We are still dealing with her fever, which varies due to infection from the fungus, and these symptoms are always fluctuating.

This affects her appetite and ability to walk even short distances on certain days.  Her organs must handle the strong medicine she needs to continue killing the fungus in her lungs, which is very toxic and can have severe side effects.  Her body is slowly improving, but highly changeable.  Each dose of medicine can cause her to lose her appetite, develop fever, diarrhea, exhaustion, and thus stressed breathing can be triggered.

For the next 6-to-8 months Audrey will then need follow-up checkups every few months to make sure she doesn't relapse. The fear of losing her everyday has been an overwhelming experience for all of us. We do our best to monitor her closely and keep her comfortable.

Audrey has made some progress. When she doesn't have a fever she is able to eat. Adjusting her medications, which must be juggled in the face of complications, is critical to her recovery but also to assure that the medications used to assault the fungus don't create other life-threatening conditions.

We know everyday we have with Audrey is a gift.  We remain focused on giving her everything she needs to help her in every way possible while she is trying to survive this terrible life-threatening illness.                               
The Impact

This kind of unexpected and regular outlay of cash would strap most families.  But since the economic downturn, which has already taken its toll, our financial stability is threatened.

If Audrey's treatment doesn't continue, the illness will progress and take her life.   She only 4 1/2 years old and I refuse to accept that money will stand in the way of her life.  We love her dearly, and as long as Audrey is willing to fight we will continue to give her the best treatment and care we can. But we can't do it without your help!   Please find it in your hearts to help us reach our goal, which will allow us to continue her life-saving treatment.  Please help us save Audrey, so that her prognosis continues to look good going forward.

For more information, or to help Audrey, click here.

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