Are fungal infections becoming more and more dangerous?
Last Updated on January 29, 2024 by Joseph Gut – thasso
January 28, 2024 – Fungal infections are becoming more and more dangerous for us; Mushrooms are not only found on our plates, but practically everywhere around us. They are often harmless to us humans, but if an infection occurs, it can have serious consequences, as a new study shows. The COVID-19 pandemic has kept the world in suspense for over two and a half years.
But it’s not just the acute illness itself that brings difficulties, the psychological and physical consequences also cause us problems. In addition to Long COVID, there is another acute and very threatening side effect of a COVID-19 infection, namely COVID-19-associated fungal diseases. Three important fungal infections were identified in connection with COVID-19, namely COVID-19-associated pulmonary aspergillosis (CAPA), COVID-19-associated candidiasis (CAC) and, in particular, with the emergence of the Delta variant in India, the COVID-19 associated mucormycosis (CAM). Many studies have taken up regional phenomena and aspects; However, a look at the global development of these COVID-19-associated diseases has so far been missing.
These findings show one thing clearly: the world of fungi is still full of secrets. Researchers believe there are nearly 4 million species that are still unknown. To date, around 120,000 species of mushrooms have been described. This means: It could take another 25,000 years until all species have been discovered. A mammoth task. After all, mushrooms live not only in the forest, but also in the sea and in the tropics. Well protected and difficult to find. But fungi can also be found around us and in our bodies. Tiny and mostly harmless to us.
But fungi are increasingly becoming a deadly threat to humans. The number of infections is increasing, as shown by the new study cited above, which was published in mid-January in the journal “Lancet Infectious Diseases”. To do this, numbers from 120 countries covering fungal diseases between 2010 and 2023 were analyzed. The estimates assume an annual incidence of 6.5 million invasive fungal infections and 3.8 million deaths, according to the author of the study. However, as a mycologist, the author states that these numbers can only be estimated. There is no exact information about annual fungal diseases. Also because it is not always clear whether a fungus is behind an observed infection.
What is clear, however, is that the number of fatal infections is increasing. According to the study, there were around 2 million fungal deaths more than 10 years ago. Now there are 6.5 million. A massive increase. “We need to take mushrooms very seriously”, said the study authors. The problem: You cannot vaccinate against fungi and only a few medications may help. We humans could increase the effect even further. Because mushrooms are capable of learning. They can also develop resistance like bacteria. This happens, for example, through the use of fungicides, i.e. poisons that are intended to kill fungi. They are often used in agriculture.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has therefore warned of fungal diseases as early as 2022 and published a list of the most life-threatening fungal infections. Specifically, there are over 19 pathogenic fungi that experts believe threaten public health. The WHO called for better research into these pathogens in order to develop treatment options.
The following pathogens are particularly life-threatening for patients with weakened immune systems: Cryptococcus neoformans, which can cause meningitis, Candita auris, which can affect the central nervous system, organs, bones and eyes, among other things, Aspergillus fumigatus, which is found in the lung and implants, and Candida albicans. The following applies to the latter: small but mighty. This pathogen is widespread and affects mucous membranes in the mouth, throat, genital area and intestines, but rarely causes problems in healthy people. However, it can be life-threatening for immunocompromised people, as the above-mentioned COVID-19-associated candidiasis (CAC) shows.
Here are some explanations about fungal diseases:
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