Researchers say a scary fungus that has made health officials in the United States to issue stern warnings to health facilities across the nation may have a connection to the climate change phenomenon.
This is according to a new study, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
Candida Auris was only identified about 10 years ago. But it has become a serious health threat, especially among people with weakened immune system. Health officials have issued warnings about the fungus because it is highly-resistant to anti-fungal medications. The fatality rate is on the high side as well.
The case of this yeast infection is a curious one. This is mainly because infections of this kind are uncommon among humans due to their being warm-blooded. Fungi find it hard to survive in warm environments.
But Candida auris is a different kettle of fish. It is able to thrive in warmer conditions, increasing its tendency to infect and live in the human body.
Researchers observed in this new research that this may not be unconnected to climate change. Increasingly warmer temperature has enabled the yeast to adapt and replicate at normal body temperature.
This is a possible sign that humans may soon have to contend with more cases of fungal infections that are hard to control with medications.
“We think this is a harbinger of things that may come,” said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, the lead author of the study.
The new research was published in the July issue of mBio, a journal of the American Society of Microbiology.
Fast-spreading and Possibly Fatal
Public health officials in the U.S. say the fungus was imported into the country. It was first detected in the ear of a Japanese woman in 2009 – the mode of discovery influenced its name. “Auris” is the Latin word for ear.
Seven cases of infection were reported in America in 2016, the same year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a clinical alert about the fungus. The number of infected individuals in the U.S. rose to 77 by May 2017. As of July 12 this year, there were 685 confirmed and 30 probable cases in the U.S.
auris infections have now been reported in more than 30 countries. It is thought that it has probably spread to many more countries than the ones currently known.
An infected person can have the pathogen on their skin for several months or even longer. Specialized laboratory methods are required to detect it.
The CDC estimates that at least 30 percent of those who are infected with the yeast end up dying.
auris enters into the bloodstream and can infect the brain or heart of a person. This probably explains why it can be so fatal.
Could Climate Change Be to Blame?
Strains of this type of yeast that are genetically different have been observed on different continents at just about the same time. This has made researchers to wonder what could be driving the emergence.
“What could be common to Venezuela, South Africa and India at the same time? These are different regions, populations, climates, you name it,” said Casadevall.
It was this puzzle that led researchers to figure that climate change may be responsible for the increasing spread of this fungal infection among humans in the current study.
Earlier research had shown that fungi can adapt to warmer temperatures rather well. Casadevall noted that a fungus will be able to reproduce at higher temperatures, if temperature is increased gradually.
In this new research, the scientists assessed the ability of C. auris to adapt at higher temperatures against that of closely-related species.
It was found that the fungus was better able to thrive in warmer conditions than its close relatives. This likely makes it possible for the pathogen to infect and replicate in humans.
What makes this discovery more concerning is that this type of yeast infection is quite difficult to treat with available medications.
The researchers, however, noted that climate change isn’t the only thing that could explain the emergence of C. auris.
Excessive use of anti-fungal medications and heavy application of fungicide on crops are among other factors that are thought to have possibly contributed to its appearance.
Casadevall said the study opens up another area that other researchers may focus more on in trying to understand this fungus better.
The origin of the yeast is not known yet. Researchers in this new study hypothesize that it probably became more temperature tolerant in birds before spreading to humans.
A Deadly, Drug-Resistant Fungus Could Be The First Infection Spread by Climate Change https://www.sciencealert.com/deadly-fungus-could-be-linked-to-climate-change-study-suggests
Climate Change Blamed for Deadly Fungus Risk https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/news/20190724/climate-change-blamed-for-deadly-fungus-risk