Fungal infections – The Ophiocordyceps fungus has long been associated with worries that zombies may soon take over the globe online.
It had a big effect on “The Last of Us,” a wildly popular computer game with an equally smash hit HBO adaptation.
The fungus, which mostly kills insects, has no effect on people and won’t turn them into mindless predators.
Medical experts caution that there is a larger danger of developing a fungal infection despite the misconception, particularly considering how the globe has grown sicker, warmer, and wetter.
At Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, Dr. Matthew Fisher teaches medicine.
His most recent studies concentrate on perilous new fungus.
“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.
Even though most fungi are beneficial to the environment, some of them can be harmful to people and make them dangerously ill.
Every year, new fungi are found by scientists, but not all of them are dangerous.
Only 400 of the more than 4 million organisms that have the capacity to cause disease, according to experts, are human pathogens.
According to the Microbiology Society, the “superficial illnesses” that afflict more than a billion people are:
- Athletes foot
However, they may be mended if they are irritating.
However, some diseases endanger your life.
Over 1.5 million people die worldwide each year as a result of severe fungal infections, according to the Microbiology Society.
The World Health Organization made it very plain in 2022 that it views diseases associated with fungi as a serious public health threat.
They discovered 19 different fungal infections to watch out for.
Who is at risk?
According to Dr. Matthew Fisher, the human body is naturally resilient to fungal infections.
The immune system could, however, have a few minor flaws.
“Then we can have fatal consequences,” said Fisher.
He asserts that those who are susceptible to fungal infections frequently already have diseases like diabetes, cancer, or HIV.
Additionally, people are more vulnerable if their immune systems have been compromised by illness, age, or medication.
However, some individuals can be more susceptible to more severe fungal infections because they lack access to Western-style therapies.
Due to a lack of access to medications, studies have shown that cryptococcal meningitis is a major cause of death for people in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly those who have HIV.
An increase in fungal threats
Studies show that a rise in immune-suppressed individuals is a factor in the spread of fatal 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 likelihood of 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.”
A black fungus caused hundreds of deaths in India in 2021.
Patients from Covid-19 were involved in over 85% of the losses.
Fisher claims that certain fungi discreetly spread over the world after appearing out of nowhere to start epidemics like Candida auris.
The spread of fungi infections has also accelerated due to the climate issue.
“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 improve surveillance and their ability to spot fungus infections.
They also support increasing spending for research, care, and infection prevention.
According to the WHO, less than 1.5% of medical research funding is allocated to fungi.
It is difficult to develop antifungal medications, according to Dr. Matt Nelsen, a researcher at the Chicago Field Museum, because of the association between animals and fungus.
“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.”
A robust immune system is advised as a barrier against fungal infection.
Dr. Matthew Fisher advises parents to let their kids play outside more often so that they can be exposed to various fungi and develop a robust immune system.
He advises enhancing ventilation and eliminating dampness in homes.
Image source: CNN