GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Tuesday April 16, 2019 – Tests results have confirmed that nine mining workers – mostly Chinese – who mysteriously fell ill last month had tested positive for histoplasmosis, an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat droppings.
At a press conference yesterday, health officials said investigations were finally complete, and the testing on the sick workers at the Guyana Manganese Incorporated (GMI) ruled out the possibility of swine flu or H1N1 as a primary cause. Two Chinese workers had succumbed to their illness.
During the investigation, blood, sputum and urine samples were collected from the workers. Testing was done at the local National Public Health Reference Laboratory (NPHRL), with confirmation testing at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad and Tobago.
CARPHA confirmed that five of the samples were tested for histoplasmosis, four of which were positive. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) China tested six additional persons, and five were positive for the infectious disease.
Histoplasmosis is not serious if confined to the lungs but can be fatal if spread throughout the body. Common symptoms are similar to the flu and include fever, chills, shortness of breath, etc.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Shamdeo Persaud added: “We had one person tested showing weak positive hantavirus, but this may have been because of past exposure to that germ.”
Upon initial reports of the illness of the GMI workers, it was speculated that they might have contracted swine flu or H1N1.
The Ministry of Public Health subsequently launched an immediate investigation to ascertain the cause of illness and contain the cases.
“All tests were negative for Influenza A & B, Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika. Even though reported we had two tests positive for leptospirosis…those were later found negative through confirmation from the Caribbean Public Health Agency laboratory,” Dr Persaud said.
The report from the CMO on the conclusion of investigations noted that from April 8 to 10, 2019, consultants from Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), a team from the Ministry of Public Health, nine officers from CDC China along with Dr Persaud visited the GMI work site.
The visiting team met with company officials and conducted interviews with persons working in the four different tunnels. They also evaluated the work area and examined risk factors relating to environmental health, occupational safety and other health-related concerns in the work environment.
The Occupational Health and Safety unit of the Ministry of Social Protection’s Department of Labour is engaging GMI on enforcing and upkeeping safety practices and safeguards for employees. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking into ensuring that GMI’s work in the hinterland conforms to national policies and standards.