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Fungus Attacking Chicago Area Dogs

CHICAGO (CBS) -- One tip led to another and another, and then more. CBS 2 has learned of a fungus is attacking dogs in Chicago.

It's an affliction once called Chicago disease--because it so often strikes right here.

As CBS 2's Brad Edwards reports, if you're a dog owner, it should be on your radar.

It took Prince's sight in June. It took Delilah a year to defeat. And it took Keiko's life in May.

Prince, Delilah and Keiko are dogs.

Each battled blastomycosis, a fungus so synonymous with the region that it's often referred to simply as Chicago Disease.

"It's definitely something pet owners need to be aware of," said Dr. Seth Ghantous, DVM, an internal medicine specialist.

Blastomycosis thrives in moistened soil or wood and is inhaled by, well, dogs being dogs.

"They get their noses in dirt," said Ghantous. "Where there is blasto[mycosis]."

Once inhaled, it then multiplies in the body, targeting the lungs, eyes, skin, and other parts of the body.

In Prince's case it stole his sight in days.

"It's been rough," said Prince's emotional owner Patrick DeHaan. "It's um ... you know it was obviously very hard."

Why is Chicago a haven for blastomycosis?

"The lake has something to do with it," Dr. Ghantous explains, "because soil by the water is the primary place to get that disease."

A majority of cases are seen in the spring because the conditions are ideal for the fungus.

"Limping, an unexplained limp, coughing, or skin lesions," are all things to look for, said Dr. Ghantous. "There really is not a great way to prevent this from happening, unless you are going to put your dog in a bubble, and not let them do dog things."

The cure is costly.

"We didn't think she was going to make it, only 50 percent of them survive" said Delilah's owner Ami Smith, the practice manager at Plainfield Veterinary Clinic. "It was horrible. I sat there with her every day, in tears."

Smith's doberman, Delilah, survived a year-long battle with 'Blasto' that included a five-day stay in the ICU. Her estimated retail cost to treat Delilah tops $20,000 -- that includes an $800 a month oral medication.

Not all dogs are so lucky. The Schrock family became worried when their dog Keiko developed a cough that turned into a full-blown assault on his system.

"It hurts a lot, because he was a really good dog" said 16-year-old Dana Schrock. "It's probably the hardest part, watching him suffer so bad."

Keiko died in their arms, in May.

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