Fungal infections – Online rumors have long suggested that the fungus Ophiocordyceps might be the start of the zombie apocalypse.
It served as a major source of inspiration for “The Last of Us,” the popular HBO adaptation of the equally popular game.
However, since the fungus primarily affects insects, people are not impacted and will not mutate into mindless carnivores.
Despite the fantasy, researchers caution that fungal infections are becoming a greater hazard, particularly given how the globe has been sicker, warmer, and wetter.
Professor of medicine at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, Dr. Matthew Fisher.
His current study focuses on newly developing harmful fungi.
“We’re always surrounded by fungal spores,” said Fisher. “We’ve lived with them ever since we made beds in the Savanna 500,000 years ago, before we even evolved into modern humans.”
“And we’ve had to adapt this exquisite immune system that we have to defend against spores, because many of them are potentially pathogenic.”
“Fungi are just seeking sources of food, and in the eyes of many soptropic fungi, we are just food,” he said, describing an organism that feeds on dead organic matter.
Although fungi are good for the environment, a small number of them are dangerous and can infect people with illnesses.
Every year, new fungi are uncovered by scientists, although not all of them are dangerous.
Only 400 of the more than 4 million might cause disease are human pathogens, according to experts.
The Microbiology Society describes “superficial illnesses,” which affect more than a billion people, as including:
- Athletes foot
Despite being irritating, they are nonetheless treatable.
However, certain infections pose a risk to life.
The Microbiology Society estimates that about 1.5 million individuals worldwide pass away from fatal fungus diseases.
The World Health Organization formally declared in 2022 that it sees fungus-related infections as a serious public health issue.
They published a list of the 19 different fungi illnesses to be aware of.
Who is at risk?
The human body is resistant to fungus infections, claims Dr. Matthew Fisher.
However, the immune system might develop minor flaws.
“Then we can have fatal consequences,” said Fisher.
According to him, those with a high risk of fungal infections typically have underlying diseases like HIV, cancer, or diabetes.
Additionally, those whose immune systems have been compromised by old age, illness, or medications are also at a higher risk.
However, some people may be more susceptible to more severe fungal infections because they lack access to Western-style medications.
Due to a lack of access to medications, studies have shown that cryptococcal meningitis is a primary cause of death for people in sub-Saharan Africa, especially those who have HIV.
Read also: Hospitals still crowded even as illnesses retreat in 2023
An increase in fungal threats
According to research, the amount of immune-suppressed individuals is in part to blame for the rise in dangerous fungal infections.
“What’s changing is that more people that are exposed have those high risk factors,” Fisher explained.
“We have aging populations, and we were using a lot of chemicals in the environment which are forcing fungi to adapt, and our clinical antifungals are being degraded by antimicrobial resistance.”
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic increased the potential for fungal infections, according to Dr. Matthew Kasson, a mycologist at West Virginia University.
“Viruses have this way of suppressing the immune response,” he explained.
“Some of the drugs we’re using to combat the viruses are also having an effect where they’re making it easier for fungi to invade.”
In India, hundreds of people died in 2021 as a result of a black fungus.
Covid-19 patients made up almost 85% of the deaths.
Fisher asserts that certain fungi silently spread over the world after appearing out of nowhere, causing pandemics like Candida auris.
The spread of fungal infections has also been accelerated by the climatic crisis.
“The world is becoming warmer and wetter,” explained Fisher.
“That’s just going to mean that there’s a higher burden of mold spores.”
The World Health Organization urges nations to enhance monitoring and improve their ability to diagnose fungal infections.
They also advocate for more spending on research, medication, and infection screenings.
WHO estimates that less than 1.5% of disease research budget goes on fungal infections.
The development of antifungal medications, according to Dr. Matt Nelsen, a researcher at the Chicago Field Museum, is difficult since animals and fungus are related.
“We share a lot of biochemical similarities,” he said.
“So when we are trying to kill off the fungus, we need to be careful that we’re not also killing ourselves.”
Maintaining a robust immune system is advised as a barrier against fungal infection.
Dr. Matthew Fisher advises parents to let their kids play outside more so they may be exposed to a variety of fungi and build a strong immune system.
He suggests that homes eliminate moisture and enhance ventilation.
Image source: Stat News
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