There is a rising concern among scientists and researchers about the risk of fungal infections worldwide. While some may think this mindset is just a byproduct of COVID concerns, there is a growing amount of data that suggests that such a risk is real, but what (if any) of the millions of known funguses which exist are actually cause for concern?

There is a fungal species called Ophiocordyceps, that exists in the animal kingdom that does infect people, but does not cause any health problems— let alone threatening mankind’s very existence. However, there are thousands of strains of fungal species that exist in our world, and sadly, the risk of threat from fungal pathogens is increasing.

Experts say that this increased risk is due much in part to the growing warmer, wetter, world, another lovely product of industrialization and global warming. We have always been a part of a world that is surrounded by fungal species, but human beings have been able to adapt through an incredible immune system that has enabled us to survive, defend, and protect against any of those that have been potentially pathogenic.

While there are millions of fungi that are essential, and good, for the environment, there are a few hundred that have been proven to cause disease in human beings.

Growing Numbers of Infections

In the scientific community, there are new discoveries of fungi all the time, but it’s important to remember that most of them are not a threat to human beings. Out of the nearly 4 million fungal species that have yet been discovered, only 300 or so are pathogenic to human beings. Even then, the majority of those 300 types result in mostly superficial infections.

One of the more common is athlete’s foot. Dandruff is another very common example. Unfortunately, those are just two examples, and both are more common and innocent in terms of threat to life.

There are nearly 1.5 million people that die from fungal infections globally, per year. Fungal viruses, despite their documented risk to human health, are often overlooked. The more life-threatening fungal diseases and infections tend to invade the bloodstream, or major organs like lungs and heart. Those people with compromised immune systems — those with HIV/AIDS, cancer patients, and people recovering from major injuries— are susceptible to more of these infections.

Even with impressively accurate medical knowledge and technology, drugs, and treatment methods, over a million people die each year as a cause of, or in conjunction with, fungal infections.

The threat has grown to such a degree— due in part to climate changes—  that the World Health Organization now considers fungal pathogens a considerate risk to world health.

They released a list of 19 specific kinds of fungal species that they think are of greatest concern. While many people inhale fungal cells but never get sick, it is those people with diminished immune systems that are in jeopardy. More than that certain strains have become resistant to the drugs and treatments that have been developed. One such fungal organism is called Candida Auris.

What is Candida Auris?

Dr. Susan E. Hassig, professor within the Epidemiology Department at Tulane University’s School of Public Health explains what Candida Auris is and why it’s difficult to detect: “It is a fungal organism, part of the same genus as infections we often call “yeast infections”.  This particular strain of Candida is dangerous because it has developed resistance to many of the medications used to treat fungal infections (which are often difficult to treat under normal circumstances). Some strains are resistant to all available therapies.

“The presentation of Candida Auris infection that is most problematic is when it infects the bloodstream and tissues of the person, causing fever, pain and ultimately organ damage and potentially death.

“Those at risk of contracting C. Auris infections are persons in hospitals or other care facilities for extended periods, particularly if they have any lines, tubes or other devices placed in their bodies. History of use of broad-spectrum antibiotics and antifungal medications is present in many persons who have been infected with C. auris. Most cases of C. auris have occurred in clusters (outbreaks) in some type of healthcare setting.

“The alarm has been raised to heighten awareness in healthcare institutions as C. auris can be difficult to diagnose; to encourage more aggressive infection control actions in healthcare; and to ensure that persons caring for those at high-risk are considering C. auris in any differential diagnosis of fever in their patients.

“The relevance of the alert for the general public in my mind is to help prepare them if they are involved in the care of high-risk patients, or visiting healthcare environments, as they may be asked to take special precautions to protect the high-risk patients.

“Fungal infections are challenging to manage, treat and prevent, in part because in the environment they are often resistant to routinely used disinfecting products.  These pathogens are usually transmitted by some type of physical contact and transference.  As C. auris is not generally transmitted by respiratory aerosols, many lessons from the coronavirus pandemic are not fully relevant for the general population.  However, the lessons we learned about hand hygiene and personal protective equipment (PPE) is very relevant in the healthcare setting for the prevention and control of C. auris.”

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