Everything You Should Know about The Latest Fungus Research
- Fungi are everywhere. Experts estimate that there are 1.5 million species of fungi, though only 300 are dangerous to humans.
- Though many of us disregard fungi as harmless, some fungal infections can be incredibly dangerous. In fact, estimates suggest that fungi kill around 1.5 million people each year. These organisms can cause higher death counts than Malaria, breast cancer, and many other deadly diseases.
- The rate of fungal infections world-wide is increasing drastically, and dangerous new strains of fungus are appearing on a regular basis – including Candida Auris, which has recently been discovered as a fast-spreading and potentially lethal form of yeast.
- Fungus isn’t just dangerous in the form of infections either. Research from John Hopkins school shows that fungus can be responsible for compromising mosquito immune systems – making them more likely to carry and spread malaria.
- The presence of fungi in our systems can also damage our natural healing abilities. Researchers in Iowa and Pennsylvania have discovered that fungus in chronic wounds can lead to severe complications and slow healing for diabetic patients.
- Severe conditions like Crohn’s disease may even have a link to fungus. Some researchers have begun to recognize a link between the presence of certain microbes in individuals, and the development of Crohn’s disease.
- Anyone can fall victim to a fungal infection, but those most at risk often have compromised immune systems, medical conditions, or exposure to specific environmental factors. Fungal infection risk can also be increased by frequent use of antibiotics and corticosteroids.
- Despite the obvious dangers associated with fungi, and the new threats that are emerging in the medical world on a regular basis, experts aren’t placing enough funding into preventing and managing fungal infections.
Health and Wellness: What’s Fungus Got to Do with It?
No matter who you are, or where you live, you’re constantly exposed to Fungi. Experts suggest that there are around 1.5 million species of fungi on earth today – though only about 300 of those are responsible for making humans unwell.
Commonly, fungal diseases are caused by fungi present within the environment – perhaps living on outdoor or indoor surfaces, or encountering human skin. Though many of us are familiar with the presence of fungi in our day-to-day lives, most fail to realize just how dangerous this substance can be. In fact, it may be shocking for you to learn that fungi kill around 1.5 million people each year.
Despite the dangers surrounding fungus, the medical community almost completely overlooks this substance, and often makes diagnoses of bacterial diseases instead. Now, new fungal varieties seem to be emerging on a regular basis – infecting everything from crops to people, and the concerns surrounding fungus are growing.
More People than Ever are Being Affected by Fungus
When you hear the word “fungi”, you probably think of things like general mold in your bathroom, Athlete’s food, or mushrooms. However, what most of us think about when we imagine fungi is a generally “unpleasant” substance – nothing close to the dangerous growth that fungus can actually represent.
While most types of fungus aren’t deadly, some can be disastrous to human health. For instance, some of the common fungal infections and diseases seen throughout the world today include:
- Aspergillosis: Caused by Aspergillus, this condition often occurs in people with weakened immune systems and lung diseases. Aspergillosis can cause lung infections, allergic reactions, and organ problems.
- Blastomycosis: Caused by Blastomyces, which lives in the soil throughout the U.S, this condition causes flu-like symptoms which can become fatal if they aren’t treated quickly.
- Coccidioidomycosis: Caused by Coccidiodes: this fungus can cause Valley Fever, which can sometimes make people severely ill.
- Candidiasis: Caused by the yeast Candida, Candidiasis is a fungal infection which can occur in the vagina, mouth, throat, and bloodstream, and may be responsible for severe infection symptoms.
- C. Neoformans infection: Caused by Cryptococcus neoformans, this condition can infect the brain of people with AIDS/HIV, leading to meningitis.
- Histoplasmosis: Caused by Histoplasma, this condition can cause fever, fatigue, and coughing. Though many infected will get better without medical intervention, some people with weakened immune systems can suffer severe infections.
- Pneumonia: Caused by Pneumocystis jirovecii, this condition can cause serious problems – particularly in people with weakened immune systems.
- Ringworm: This is a common fungal infection that appears in the form of a circular rash, it can sometimes cause itching, hair loss, and general discomfort.
These tiny organisms can easily be fatal, with death counts much higher than Malaria, and with more than twice the fatalities of breast cancer. Today, experts have begun to warn various populations of a significant increase in fungal infections. In fact, in the United Kingdom, a vast number of people are now living with serious and invasive fungal diseases which can impact the bloodstream, brain, and lungs – potentially leading to death.
Research indicates that the incident rate of fungal infections is increasing at an alarming level – representing a huge challenge for many healthcare professionals. This increased danger could be directly related to the growing population of individuals with immune system compromise, and changes in medical practices – such as the increased use of immunosuppressive drugs.
Candida Could Cause Fatal Infections
One of the dangerous forms of fungi that we mentioned above was Candida. Candida Albicans is one of the most common types of yeast in the human body, which lives alongside other strains of Candida in the mucous membranes and skin. Usually, Candida is not harmful because it’s numbers are maintained and managed by the surrounding microorganisms and bacteria. However, yeast infections can occur at any opportunity. For instance, when a woman takes antibiotics, they may kill the bacteria that is controlling the presence of yeast in her system – leading to an infection.
In most healthy people, yeast infections can be easily treated, and even prevented. However, in people with weakened immune systems, these conditions can become recurrent, and even life-threatening. These infections can sometimes become systematic, as candida spreads through the lungs, brain, blood vessels, kidneys, and bowels. In fatal instances, symptoms become increasingly worse, with death as the final result.
Recently, research has begun to show that Candida auris – a multidrug-resistant form of Candida which has caused fatal infections in numerous hospitalized patients is capable of many severe growth patterns. Health officials have begun to issue warnings that the latest strain of Candida Auris could be extremely dangerous. In fact, it has already affected 40 patients in a south-east England hospital.
According to experts, the developed Candida infection began in Japan in 2009, and since then has been discovered across parts of south America and Asia. The Public Health organization in England commented that Candida Auris is unlike any other pathogenic yeast species because of its easy transmission between patients.
Though experts are monitoring the spread of dangerous Candida, more research is required, and the healthcare community needs to be aware of this new species, and the emerging dangers of fungal infections.
Fungus and Malaria
Of course, new Candida infections aren’t the only example of the threats that fungus poses to human health. Research has also begun to uncover connections between fungus, and malaria infections. Malaria occurs when mosquitos are infected with the Plasmodium parasite before they bit healthy humans. Mosquitos obtain the infection when they feed on humans already infected with the Plasmodium parasite – creating a circle of cause and effect.
Recently, researchers at the John Hopkins School of Public Health discovered a fungus that compromises mosquito immune systems – making them more susceptible to infection through the parasite known for causing malaria. Just like humans, mosquitos are frequently exposed to a range of microbes within their available environment, and these fungi and bacteria can impact the health of mosquitos in different ways. In the past, malaria researchers have identified microbes responsible for blocking the Anopheles mosquito from infection through the parasite for malaria, but this represents the first time a microorganism has been discovered which makes mosquitos more likely to become infected.
The research surrounding the new fungus and mosquito interaction shows that the fungi doesn’t kill mosquitos or make them sick, but simply means that they’re more likely to obtain malaria and therefore spread the disease. In other words, fungus isn’t just directly dangerous to us as humans when we are exposed to it through natural sources, but it can also be particularly dangerous when it comes to increasing our chances of suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
Fungus and Impaired Healing
Not only can fungus increase our risk of suffering from deadly diseases, but it may also prevent us from healing with the speed and efficiency that our bodies are naturally capable of. Researchers in Iowa and Pennsylvania have discovered that fungus found in chronic wounds can create bacterial-fungal biofilms that result in longer healing times and negative outcomes for patients.
The latest research into the connection between impaired healing and fungal infection comes from a team following 100 patients with diabetic foot ulcers over the course of 26 weeks. The findings of the study highlighted the fact that the fungal components of the microbiome may be responsible for playing a significant role in hampering the way that chronic wounds heal.
Chronic wounds can be a significant problem in people with disorders like obesity and diabetes. Once a chronic wound occurs, it requires a significant amount of care, and can have a serious impact on patient wellbeing. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 7 million diabetics in the US will experience a foot ulcer in their life, with 15% requiring a lower limb amputation.
During the course of their research, the team found that 80% of the wounds that they were evaluating harbored some manner of fungi, from around 284 different species. The most abundant fungus was Cladosporium herbarum – and this was found in 41% of samples. The second most abundant fungus was Candida Albicans – found in around one fifth of samples.
While no single species of fungi has been diagnosed as the cause for poor outcomes for people with chronic wounds, mixed communities of fungus were associated with complications such as amputation, bone infection, and slow healing.
Fungus and Crohn’s Disease
The latest research into fungus may also suggest that certain types of fungi might contribute to chronic problems like Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is a painful condition that is incredibly damaging to a person’s quality of life – prompting fatigue, diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition. The serious symptoms of Crohn’s disease can prompt the need for surgery in 75% of people, though 40% of those who undergo surgery experience a symptom relapse within a year.
At this time, there is no known cure for Crohn’s, and some people take prescription medication to control the symptoms, though the underlying cause cannot be treated. However, recently, a Case Western Reserve University study lead a team of international researchers into the discovery of a fungus that could be a key factor in the development of Crohn’s disease. These ground-breaking findings could be the beginning of finding new treatments and even cures for those who suffer from this debilitating inflammatory bowel disease.
The study considered hundreds of different types of bacteria living within human intestines and found that a combination between Candida Tropicalis and two types of bacteria could be linked strongly to Crohn’s sufferers. This microbial trio could be responsible for causing a bridge that connects the internal microbes and forms a biofilm, which attaches to the intestines – causing Crohn’s disease symptoms and inflammation.
For some time, experts believed that long-term stress, genetics, and exposure to certain viruses and infections, along with various other risk factors could be blamed for the majority of most IBD cases. However, knowing now that fungi may be responsible for triggering Crohn’s disease builds on the idea that microorganisms in our bodies can lead to autoimmune symptoms.
Now that we’ve established the dangers of fungal infections, and the different ways in which fungus is emerging as a significant concern within modern society, it may be helpful to look at the factors which can make a person more susceptible to fungal infection. Though anyone can fall victim to a fungal infection, the following elements may make severe interactions more likely:
- Frequent antibiotic use: Antibiotics are medicines used with the intent to kill harmful bacteria which might be causing illness or infection. Unfortunately, most antibiotics don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria. In other words, these drugs can reduce the natural balance in your bacterial system, allowing fungi the opportunity for colonization.
- Corticosteroid use: Corticosteroids are intended for use in situations wherein inflammation needs to be reduced. Many doctors turn to corticosteroids when treating skin disorders. However, these drugs can also be responsible for reducing our immune system response – enhancing opportunities for fungal growth.
- Compromised immune systems: The immune system, in simple terms, is a set of cellular and chemical responses that attack organisms which cause diseases in the body. As important as this system is, it can also be suppressed by several factors, including chemotherapy and various illnesses. A damaged immune system means that you aren’t prepared to fight back against all types of infection. This means that a fungus which could normally be controlled by your immune system would be allowed to develop and grow.
- Medical conditions: Sometimes, individuals that suffer from pre-existing chronic conditions and medical issues can suffer more frequently with fungal infections. For instance, diabetes, cancers, and other illnesses can make you more susceptible to fungal infection than the general population.
- Environmental factors: Finally, fungus requires moisture for growth and reproduction. This means that fungal infections are more likely in moist, warm areas of the body. Sweaty shoes and clothes can enhance fungus growth on skin, and exposure to areas of moisture can sometimes represent a problem.
We’re Still Not Focusing Enough On Fungi
Unfortunately, despite the obvious threats that fungi represent, we simply aren’t dedicating enough focus to finding solutions for these problems. Research into preventative measures and fungal diseases receives extremely low funding, according to a report that comes from the Microbiology Society.
The report indicates that more than a billion people are currently suffering from fungal infections, ranging from minor concerns like thrush, ringworm, and athletes foot, to severe and invasive fungal infections that damage the organs and blood.
While simple practices like hand washing, air filtration, and the careful consumption of diets that don’t promote the growth of fungi can help – we need to dedicate more effort as a society to understanding, and fighting fungal infections. In the meantime, individuals are encouraged to follow strict hygiene precautions when preventing certain forms of fungal infection. For instance, it can be helpful to:
- Wash your hands and body regularly.
- Avoid exposure to communal moist areas (showers and spas).
- Wash your clothes frequently
- Stay away from sugars that can help to feed some forms of fungus and yeast – like Candida