Map shows cryptococcal disease infections since 1999 in humans (red dots), animals (blue squares) and marine mammals (blue whales).
A deadly tropical fungus that first colonized eastern Vancouver Island is now believed to have spread to the Lower Mainland.
Researchers say the number of cases of infected people and animals in Greater Vancouver and the lower Fraser Valley suggests cryptococcus gattii has crossed Georgia Strait.
Since 1999 a total of 217 B.C. residents have been infected with cryptococcal disease, a lung infection that can result when people or animals breathe in airborne spores released by the fungus.
Eight people have died.
"There are an increasing number of people who live on the mainland who are getting sick," said Dr. Eleni Galanis, an epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
Until recently, researchers thought those people encountered the fungus while travelling on Vancouver Island or in the tropics, not close to home.
But six people who hadn't travelled anywhere the fungus is found were infected between 2004 and 2006 – one from the Sunshine Coast, two from Greater Vancouver and three from the Fraser Valley.