Scientists are concerned about a drug-resistant fungus that has arisen and could put people in danger. The fungus, Candida auris, has atypical behavior for a fungus and has shown unusually high tolerance to heat. According to scientists studying the fungus, global warming is partially responsible for its recurrence.
Most at risk are people who are already sick in hospitals or who are elderly residents in long-term care facilities. Fungal infections are known to be extremely difficult to treat and can become fatal very quickly.
According to an abstract from a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal mBio, candida auris“…emerged simultaneously on three continents, with each clade, a group of organisms believed to have evolved from a common ancestor, being genetically distinct.”
The scientists note that new fungal species are identified on a regular basis, so the concern is not that there is a new fungus. The problem is that most are associated with a single case that occurs in people who are immunosuppressed. Candida auris was discovered and named a decade ago in a Japanese patient who developed an ear infection. Scientists noted that the latest case of candida auris could be the first example of a disease emerging due to climate change and other factors might have contributed as well.
Scientists note that climate change is expected to warm the earth by several degrees during this century. This occurrence means the average temperature of people and animals will be closer to that of room temperature.
Fungi tend to prefer cooler temperature, but that’s not the case with candida auris. So far, the drug has proven to be resilient despite being treated with drugs and it has existed in a warmer environment – making it different from many currently known fungi.
Researchers reported their concerns in the abstract, stating, “…higher ambient temperatures will lead to the selection of fungal lineages to become more thermally tolerant. There is also concern that these fungi will “… breach the mammalian thermal restriction zone… and can be rapidly adapted to growth at higher temperatures…”
Concerns about Drug-Resistance on the Rise
Scientists reiterated their concern that climate change could lead to the development of new fungal diseases. They point out that fungi are quick to adapt to changing temperature and even non-pathogenic species could have virulence.
The Johns Hopkins scientists are not the first to express concern about climate change and fungal risks. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has also suggested climate change plays a role in the emergence of drug-resistant fungal infections.
What’s even more concerning is that high fatality rate for those who develop candida auris. About a third of people diagnosed with the infection don’t survive. The risk might be even higher for those who have compromised immunity or for the very young and the elderly.
In addition to the concerns noted about climate change, there is ongoing concern in the medical community related to over-prescribing antibiotic medications. Medical researchers have said for years that diseases are becoming more potent and more antibiotic-resistant. The combination of climate change and overuse of antibiotics could create a serious medical crisis.
According to the CDC, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health challenges in modern times. At least 2 million people in the United States develop an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 of those people die. Resistance to antibiotics makes it difficult to treat people with chronic diseases, especially those who need medical treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, or dialysis.