Be afraid. Fungi resistance is mushrooming

2 minute read

And these infectious spores don’t need humans to help them spread.

With all the kerfuffle over the last few years occasioned by the emergence of covid, it’s easy to forget that there’s quite a few other microscopic critters out there poised to inflict havoc on human health given the right circumstances.

Chief among these are the infectious fungi lurking in remote areas of the planet, quietly developing antimicrobial-resistant strains and waiting for the opportunity to spread themselves more widely.          

One such nasty, according to research published this month in the journal mSphere, is a fungus called Aspergillus fumigatus, which can be found in the Three Parallel Rivers region in Yunnan, China.

This fungus can cause a variety of unpleasant diseases, including infections of the lungs and other organs, as well as severe allergic reactions, and affects between three to four million people each year. Severe infections can result in lung removal and can be fatal.

The scary thing is, the research team responsible for the mSphere study reports that 7% of the fungal samples collected from the region, which lies 6000m above sea level and is surrounded by glacial peaks of the Eastern Himalayas, are resistant to antifungal medicines.

Given the remote location and the lack of population in this area, such a high resistance level is striking, the boffins say.

“Seven per cent may seem like only a small number, but these drug-resistant strains are capable of propagating very quickly and taking over local and regional populations of this species,” Jianping Xu, a professor of biology at Canada’s McMaster University, told media.

This study is the third in a trio of related studies by Xu and colleagues. The first study found that approximately 80% of A. fumigatus samples from Yunnan greenhouses were resistant to commonly used antifungal drugs, while the second study determined that around 15% of samples from Yunnan agricultural fields, lake sediments, and forests were likewise resistant.

That these drug-resistant spores could potentially travel to, and propagate in, such remote areas was concerning for global spread, Professor Xu said.

“Unlike viruses like covid-19, fungi don’t need a host to spread. They can travel on humans, through trade, and even on strong winds,” he added.

These sound like the kinds of fungi that are not fun guys to have hanging around.

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