ESCANABA, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – An Escanaba paper mill will shut down for up to three weeks after a fungal outbreak sickened nearly one hundred employees over the past five weeks.

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The mill calls the move a precautionary measure to protect the health and safety of its employees and contractors due to the blastomycosis fungal infection outbreak.

“Our top priority now and always is protecting the health and safety of our employees and contractors who work at our Escanaba mill,” said Christoph Michalski, Billerud president and CEO. “We care deeply about their well being and are doing everything we can to protect them and identify and address the root cause of the blastomycosis fungal infections.”

Michalski said the financial impact of the shutdown should be minimal since production was adjusted to meet current market demand. The mill be be cleaned during the three week closure as well.

Billerud first learned of the blastomycosis fungal infections on March 3 from the Public Health Delta and Menominee Counties (PHDM). Local hospitals contacted the department after of several atypical pneumonia infections popped up in individuals who work at Billerud. To date, there have been 21 confirmed cases and 76 probable cases of blastomycosis among Billerud workers.

The source of the outbreak has not been identified.

PHDM officials say the Upper Peninsula is a known risk area for blastomycosis infection. The fungus grows in moist soil and decomposing matter, like wood and leaves. If disturbed, as in a paper mill, the fungus can become airborne.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports blastomycosis is not contagious and doesn’t spread from person to person. Doctors can prescribe antifungal medications to treat it.