Could Climate Change Help Spread Dangerous Fungal Infection?

Climate change may have spawned a new killer, antibiotic-resistant bug

Climate change may have spawned a new killer, antibiotic-resistant bug

"We are warm-blooded and our temperatures are very effective at keeping most of the fungi out", Casadevall said. It then started showing up in hospitals in Asia, Africa and South America in patients without a clear link - and no one could figure out why.

A new study released Tuesday in the journal mBio says the increase in cases of Candida auris infection could be just the beginning of new fungal diseases emerging because of climate change. Indeed, most fungal infections in persons are discovered on the coolest parts of the human body, together with the feet and in nail beds.

Researchers cautioned that global warming-related changes in the environment alone do not explain the fungus's emergence.

The majority of fungi grow well in ambient temperatures but only a small percentage can tolerate our body temperature. The experts note that the sudden, independent emergence of C auris as a human pathogen on three continents simultaneously cannot be explained exclusively by widespread use of antifungal drugs or recent acquisition of virulence traits, and that fungal pathogens are rare in mammals because they can't grow at human body temperature.

Researchers believe rising temperatures are allowing candida auris to evolve to live at higher temperatures, meaning they can survive inside humans.

So far, Candida auris infections have been reported in more than 30 countries, including India, South Africa and Russian Federation. In the developing world, detection isn't always possible, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But regardless, better surveillance systems are needed to look for fungal infections like C. auris, authors said. Most of the cases have been detected in the New York City area, New Jersey and Chicago area.

Symptoms may not be noticeable because patients with C. auris infection are often already sick in the hospital. The most vulnerable have been the categories with a low immune system, for example, the cancer patients during chemotherapy.

The fungus is especially alarming to health workers, who may fear for their own safety when treating the illness.

Based on current information, 30 to 60 per cent of people with C. auris infections have died, according to the CDC. Eliminating all traces of the fungus from his contaminated room was so hard that "the hospital needed special cleaning equipment and had to rip out some of the ceiling and floor tiles", the New York Times reports.

In 2009, a highly drug-resistant fungus known as Candida auris seemed to have come out of nowhere.

To evaluate the hypothesis, they compared the thermal susceptibility of C auris to those of some of its close phylogenetic relatives, including Candida haemulonii, and found that it is capable of growing at higher temperatures than other fungal species.

"We are pretty good at surveilling influenza and diseases that cause diarrhea or are contagious, but fungal diseases are not usually contagious and therefore nobody has really bothered to document them well", he said.