Tests results from the Chinese Civil Defence Commission (CDC) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad and Tobago have confirmed that approximately nine of the Guyana Manganese Incorporated (GMI) workers who fell ill on March 29, were tested positive for Histoplasmosis.
Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by a fungus found in the droppings of birds and bats in humid areas. It is not serious if confined to the lungs but can be fatal if spread throughout the body.
At a press conference Monday at the Public Health Ministry’s Quamina Street, Georgetown building, Chief Medical Officer Dr Shamdeo Persaud disclosed that CARPHA tested five samples and four were positive while the Chinese CDC tested an additional six persons and five were positive for histoplasmosis.
Between March 28 to April 4, 18 employees of GMI were airlifted to the Georgetown Public Hospital with fever, headaches, joint pains and mild shortness of breath.
Two of those employees subsequently died from haemorrhagic pneumonia as a result of leptospirosis, while the others were flown out to China.
The Ministry of Public Health along with a team from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other officials found that all of the men affected were cleaning tunnels of bat droppings at the GMI’s Mathews Ridge, Region One location.
The tunnels were to be used to construct a workshop. The men spent between four minutes to 84 hours at the location without wearing any protective gears.
Specifically, the two who died spent ten days cleaning the tunnels.
“It definitely indicated that longer periods of exposure in the tunnel were the ones to come down with more severe disease as the case may be,” Dr Persaud said.
It was explained that this is the first time local professionals encountered such cases of Histoplasmosis.
“Histoplasmosis…can produce a lot of diseases but one of them is the form of the lung disease and can affect the patient in a severe way,” said Dr Genellys Camps, a Consultant on Internal medicine at the Georgetown Public Hospital.
She explained that the infection affects immunocompromised patients but most cases have been in HIV patients.
Histoplasmosis is the most common of the endemic mycoses in patients with AIDS.
At Monday’s press conference, Occupational Safety and Health Consultant, Gweneth King said the employees were not wearing face masks or any other protective gears.
“If you have to do a job like that, you have to wear personal protective equipment.”
According to her, the company reported that they had the gears in the country but it was at the wharf awaiting clearance.
However, questioned on whether sanctions will be instituted, King said she is unsure at this point.
“We have to work in the confines of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and we are now going through our findings and preparing our report,” she said.
King said the Department was unaware that the company began operations.
However, Senior Environment Officer, Camille Adams disclosed that the mining company was given permission to begin preparatory works as it awaited the approval to begin mining.
The mine was previously in operation but was closed in 1968. Adams told the media that records do not show any health related issues to be the cause of the closure.
Moving forward, the Ministry of Health will be working to increase its capacity to test for other diseases.
It will also be providing guidance to the plant or any additional work within these areas identified as high risk.
The local hospital in Mathews Ridge will also be equipped with more staff, equipment and supplies so they can respond to an emergency in a timely manner.
The operations of the company remain suspended until an assessment by the EPA is complete.