A new study led by University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers Caitlin Pepperell and Bruce Klein have identified a specific genetic vulnerability among Hmong people that renders them more susceptible to the disease-causing fungus, Blastomyces dermatitidis.

Blastomyces dermatitidis/CDC

“We were struck by this because it hadn’t been described before … rates were 10-to-100 times greater than one might expect based on population numbers alone,” says Klein, an infectious disease physician and professor of pediatrics, internal medicine, and medical microbiology and immunology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH). “It’s really been a holy grail question — why are some people more vulnerable and what is the basis for this?”

Understanding these vulnerabilities is really important for patients, says Pepperell, also an infectious disease physician and associate professor of medicine and medical microbiology and immunology at SMPH, because it can help physicians make better-informed and more timely decisions about treatment for people who are at higher risk.

“Unfortunately, a really typical story with blastomycosis is having a long delay to diagnosis because it’s a (relatively) rare disease and people are not familiar with it,” Pepperell says. The earlier people are treated, the better their outcomes.

Read more at University of Wisconsin–Madison