While most of the world is focused on the viruses (old and new) that pose a significant threat to public health, fungal infections are experience a disturbingly quick rise in prevalence.
Infections are growing so quickly, in fact, that the WHO says funding needs to increase to the level being spent on bacterial, parasitic, and even viral diseases.
They list 19 fungal threats in their report, 4 of which are listed as “critical priority pathogens” and of particular concern.
The reason for this is their ability to impact public health and their likelihood of resistance to antifungals.
First, Aspergillus fumigatus. It can spread via airborne spores and mostly affects the lungs. These infections can be fatal for between 47%-88% of patients, and is also resistant to antifungal medicine.
Next up, Candida albicans, which is naturally found in the gut and mouth of most people. If you have a weak immune system, though, it could lead to invasive infections.
Third is Cryptococcus neoformans. This one is found many places in the natural world, but most pervasively in bird poop. It’s capability of crossing the blood-brain barrier and to infect the central nervous system makes it extremely dangerous, particularly for immunocompromised people.
Rounding out the “most dangerous” list is Candida Auris. This is a newly emerged pathogen that’s resistant to antifungals. There were many reports of people being infected while in the hospital with Covid-19.
Though often overlooked, Dr. Justin Beardsley (University of Sydney Infectious Disease Institute) says fungal infections should not be underestimated.
“Fungi are the ‘forgotten’ infectious disease. They cause devastating illnesses but have been neglected so long that we barely understand the size of the problem.”
His colleague, Dr. Hanan Balkhy, agrees.
“Emerging fro the shadows of the bacterial antimicrobial resistance pandemic, invasive fungal diseases are growing ever more resistant to treatments, becoming an ever more pressing public health concern worldwide.”
Fungal infections already kill 1.7 million people every year – and that number is rising.
“From COVID-19 to climate change, global crises are turning fungi against humans,” warns Dr. Haileyesus Getahun, WHO Director, Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Global Coordination.
That’s why they’re suggesting that fungal disease deserves more than its current 1.5% of research funds.
If nothing changes, it just might be too late.