Bacteria and virus are more than familiar to most people. What is frequently ignored, however, is another enormous group of organisms that can affect our health: fungi. Fungal infections are increasing globally, and the awareness of fungus is essential in the fight against them.
Guess how many species of fungi are there on Earth? The answer may astonish you: 5.1 million.
Among these fungi, familiar ones are the mushrooms you may eat frequently; there are also some big, colorful mushrooms which may be poisonous, and microscopic fungi that cannot be seen by naked eyes.
Only a small number of species of fungi – about 300 species – can threat our health and may cause serious life-threatening infections. To help people be more aware of fungi, CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has designated a Fungal Disease Awareness Week to boost the public’s understanding of how these microscopic organisms can make humans sick.
You can see multiple investigations of outbreaks in the past 10 years on the CDC website, the most serious one being “multistate outbreak of fungal meningitis and other fungal infections associated with contaminated steroid injections” in 2012, causing 753 cases of infection and 64 people dead.
Rising number of fungal outbreaks
The infection rate of an unexpected outbreak of an infection called blastomycosis has raised from 2 cases per million people in 2016 to 22 cases per million people in 2017. Blastomyces, which had caused 1216 deaths between 1990-2010, are present in the environment and thrive in moist soil and in decomposing organic matter.
The number of fungal outbreaks is rising each year, partly due to global warming.
Most fungi thrive at 12-30 degrees Celsius (58.6-86 degrees Fahrenheit). With the increasing global warming, fungi are adapting to higher temperatures, making it easier to infect people. This is because only those fungi which can survive at 37 degrees Celsius (our body temperature) can infect people, and the global warming is driving them to adapt to higher temperatures.
Fungal infections can be devastating, and they continue to emerge more rapidly than ever. This is in part due to increased number of people with weakened immune systems, environmental changes, and drug resistance issues. Fungal infections are hard to diagnose, which makes them challenging to treat.
It is important that we all "Think Fungus" especially when there's an infection that antibiotics fail to clear. More people should be aware that fungi are a common - and growing - source of infection.