Fungal infections – On the internet, the Ophiocordyceps fungus has long been linked to fears that the world would soon be overrun by zombies.
The popular HBO version of the equally favored video game “The Last of Us” was significantly impacted by it.
People are unaffected and won’t develop into mindless predators with the fungus, which mostly harms insects.
Despite the fiction, medical professionals warn that there is a higher risk of getting a fungal infection, especially given how the world has been sicker, warmer, and wetter.
Dr. Matthew Fisher is a professor of medicine in the School of Public Health at Imperial College London.
His most recent research focuses on dangerous new 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 most fungi are advantageous to the environment, some of them can be dangerous and sicken humans.
Scientists discover new fungus every year, but not all of them are harmful.
Experts estimate that just 400 of the more than 4 million microorganisms that potentially cause disease are human pathogens.
The “superficial illnesses” that impact more than a billion people, according to the Microbiology Society, are as follows:
- Athletes foot
Although if they are irritating, they can be patched.
However, some illnesses put your life in peril.
According to the Microbiology Society, deadly fungal infections cause over 1.5 million deaths globally each year.
In 2022, the World Health Organization made it very clear that it considers illnesses linked to fungus to be a severe public health danger.
They identified 19 distinct fungal infections to be on alert for.
Who is at risk?
Dr. Matthew Fisher asserts that the human body is innately resistant to fungal infections.
However, the immune system could be imperfect in several small ways.
“Then we can have fatal consequences,” said Fisher.
According to him, those who are at risk for developing fungal infections typically already have conditions like diabetes, cancer, or HIV.
Additionally, those whose immune systems have been weakened by aging, disease, or medication are more vulnerable.
However, due to a lack of access to Western-style treatments, some patients may be more vulnerable to more serious fungal infections.
Studies have indicated that cryptococcal meningitis is a leading cause of mortality for persons in sub-Saharan Africa, especially those who have HIV, due to a lack of access to medicines.
Read also: Pfizer shots do not have stroke risks, says CDC
An increase in fungal threats
According to studies, an increase in immune-suppressed people is a contributing factor in the spread of deadly 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, Dr. Matthew Kasson, a mycologist at West Virginia University, asserts that the Covid-19 pandemic enhanced the risk of fungal infections.
“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 in 2021, a black fungus brought hundreds of deaths.
Covid-19 patients were part of almost 85% of the deaths.
According to Fisher, certain fungus silently disperse around the globe after emerging out of thin air to trigger epidemics like Candida auris.
The climate crisis has also sped up the spread of fungal infections.
“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 implores countries to enhance monitoring and their capacity to identify fungal infections.
Additionally, they favor increasing funding for study, treatment, and infection control.
WHO estimates that less than 1.5% of medical research budget goes toward fungal infections.
According to Dr. Matt Nelsen, a researcher at the Chicago Field Museum, the relationship between animals and fungus makes it challenging to create antifungal treatments.
“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.”
It is recommended to have a strong immune system as a defense against fungal infection.
Parents should allow their children to play outside more frequently, suggests Dr. Matthew Fisher, so that they can be exposed to different fungus and build a strong immune system.
He suggests that homes improve ventilation and get rid of moisture.
Image source: NBC News