Billerud, a Swedish company that runs a paper mill in Michigan’s upper peninsula in the city of Escanaba, announced late Thursday that it intended to close the plant for three weeks following a fungal infection outbreak.
The closure comes about a month after the outbreak started and, according to the company, will allow for deep cleaning.
Billerud said the temporary mill closure was a ‘precautionary measure’, yet according to the Daily Mail, workers complained that Blastomycosis, a fungal infection, was first diagnosed in February. They also noted that the source of the problem still needed to be identified. Initially, Billerud told their employees to wear face masks to keep infection at bay after workers tested positive, showing they were suffering from a blastomycosis outbreak. The first positive cases were discovered in early March.


Face masks were ineffective at stifling the outbreak, and the numbers rose to 21 confirmed cases and an additional 76 probable cases by the second week of April, According to Delta and Menominee Counties public health officials. The health department also confirmed Friday that the first death resulting from the fungal infection had occurred.

Local health officer Michael Snyder, who is employed at the health department, said:

“We were saddened to hear this news. Our heartfelt sympathies and prayers go out to the family, friends, and coworkers who have lost their loved one.”

Billerud Operations vice president at the mill, Brian Peterson, also added his condolences saying:

“Everyone at Billerud is deeply saddened by this news. Anyone who works at our facility is part of our team, and we are keeping this individual, their family, coworkers, and friends in our thoughts and close to our hearts.”

The Michigan paper mill looks to be the epicenter of what could be one of the largest fungal outbreaks in US history.
The name of the person who passed away has not yet been released, but it was a contractor at the mill who died from infection. Currently, twelve people have had to be hospitalized, and close to 100 more are suspected of having cases.
After confirming the death Friday, officials said they were ‘deeply saddened’ by the fatality and expressed their ‘heartfelt sympathies’ for the family. The cases are confined to only those who work at the mill or who have visited the site. There are no cases in the larger community.

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