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A Fungal Pandemic May Be Next

Calls For Vaccines Go Unheeded

Some authorities caution that another pandemic is imminent and fungi may be the cause.

By Sean Zucker –

HBO’s The Last of Us may be more than the biggest television show right now; it might be a peak into the future. The series depicts a world decimated by a fungal infection pandemic that has gone apocalyptic. The last few years have already painfully proved that devastating global pandemics are real. What may be concerning for medical Nostradamus is the potential for a fungal-infused plague supported by recent scientific warnings. Some authorities caution that another pandemic is imminent, and fungi may be at fault.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that fungal infections are responsible for over 75,000 hospitalizations and about nine million outpatient visits annually. The CDC adds more than 7,000 people died from fungal diseases in 2021. Worse yet, these numbers liked don’t account for all the related sicknesses and deaths, as fungal diseases often go undiagnosed. Tracking is difficult because there is no national public health surveillance for common fungal infections, such as ringworm and vaginal candidiasis, or aspergillosis and cryptococcosis.

The World Health Organization (WHO)categorizes fungal pathogens as a major threat to human health. One reason is these pathogens become increasingly prevalent and resistant to treatment. The organization added like the coronavirus, invasive fungal infections often target severely ill patients and those with underlying immune system-related conditions. Because of this, people at the greatest risk of invasive fungal infections include those with cancer, HIV or AIDS, organ transplants and chronic respiratory disease.

“Fungal spores always surround us. We’ve lived with them 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 to defend against spores because many of them are potentially pathogenic,” Dr. Matthew Fisher, a professor and fungi specialist at London’s Imperial College, told CNN.

People are simple targets. “Fungi are just seeking sources of food, and in the eyes of many saprotrophic fungi, we are just food,” Fisher added.

Perhaps the more pressing issue is why now there is an increased increase of a fungal pandemic. After all, these pathogens have been around for a billion years. It’s another case of humankind getting in its way, according to Fisher. “What’s changing is more people are exposed have those high-risk factors. We have aging populations, and we were using chemicals in the environment, forcing fungi to adapt, and our clinical antifungals are degraded by antimicrobial resistance,” he explained.

The impact of this is already showing up on a local level. Last month, the Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH) announced they identified six people infected with Candida Auris, an invasive fungal pathogen. The MSDH reported that two of those infections resulted in deaths.

The state’s health department confirmed those at risk are the elderly or immunocompromised before detailing that Candida Auris can contaminate any surface imaginable, from bedsheets to sinks.

The best defense would be a pre-emptive strike on fungal infections that involve developing a vaccine, Karen Norris, an immunologist at the University of Georgia, recently suggested. Unfortunately, that may not be in the cards though it might be doable in a couple of years if resources were available. “The testing of a vaccine in this space is not that attractive to big pharma because they are not infections that occur at a high frequency in patients,” she told Vox.

Okay, the good news is that invasive fungi won’t turn people into mushroom-headed zombies. But they are a real health threat that could be responsible for countless deaths if there is no action.





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