Dangerous fungi that make people sick, from toxic mold to yeast: WHO
- The World Health Organization has published a list of the most dangerous fungi.
- The ranking is based on fungal drug resistance, lethality and available treatments.
- Yeast infections are becoming more common, but there are very few drugs available to treat them.
The World Health Organization first published a list of mushroom species which are considered threats to human health, citing the recent rise in drug-resistant fungal infections and the lack of research into new treatments.
Millions of fungi exist in the environment, and not all people get sick. Several types of mushrooms are edible and even for humans, but there are several hundred species of fungi known to cause dangerous infections.
Yeast infections are becoming more common worldwide, in part due to climate change and global travel, according to a WHO report. During the COVID-19 pandemic, invasive fungi increased risk of hospital-acquired infections for already sick patients.
People with weakened immune systems and respiratory infections are particularly susceptible to harmful fungi, and the drugs used to treat them are limited. There are only four classes of antifungal drugs available in most medically rich locations, and many health facilities are limited to fewer options.
Here’s what you need to know about the four species considered the most critical threats.
Many people have encountered potentially dangerous fungi without even realizing it. Aspergillus is a common type of mold found in and around flower beds, decaying plant matter and damp places in homes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 75,000 people in the US are hospitalized each year due to yeast infections, and that at least 20% of these infections are caused by aspergillus.
Because the species is so widespread, it is difficult to avoid inhaling aspergillus mold spores. Most people who inhale mold do not get sick, but aspergillosis is a particularly dangerous infection for people with weakened immunity.
If you’ve ever had a yeast infection, you’ve experienced candidiasis – a common yeast infection caused by various types of yeast.
Candida albicans is the most common culprit of fungal infections, according to the CDC. The species normally lives on the skin and inside the mouth, throat and vagina, but can cause problems if it grows out of control.
For example, changes in the vaginal environment — due to hormones, drugs or poor hygiene — can lead to itching, pain during sex and abnormal discharge. People with weakened immune systems may also be more likely to experience recurrent yeast infections and may need stronger medication to treat them.
However, some fungi have already begun to develop resistance to top antifungal drugs.
Invasive yeast tends to grow where it doesn’t belong, such as in the bloodstream and internal organs. C. auris is known to spread throughout healthcare facilities, causing outbreaks of severe infections.
To make matters worse, the fungus is difficult to diagnose. Many hospitals and laboratories lack the specific technology needed to identify C. auris, so it can be substituted for a less threatening yeast.
The fungus is resistant to multiple antifungal drugs commonly used to treat fungal infections, making them much more difficult to treat than C. albicans, and even more important for a correct diagnosis.
Like aspergillus, cryptococcus is mainly a threat to people with weakened immune systems. Cryptococcus neoformans can be found in environments around the world. She is ranked as a greater threat compared to C. pricea similar species mostly restricted to tropical and subtropical climates.
Infection with C. neoformans usually affects the lungs – because it is inhaled – or it can reach the brain and spinal cord. Brain infections caused by the fungus are called cryptococcal meningitis, which must be treated with a combination of strong antifungals.
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