Plant Fungus Infecting Humans – All We Need to Know
When we think about the health risks of climate change, we may imagine heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires, or vector-borne diseases like malaria or dengue fever. However, climate change can also indirectly affect human health by altering the ecology of other organisms, such as plants and fungi, and exposing us to new or more virulent pathogens. A recent case in India illustrates this emerging threat: a plant fungus that can infect humans.
According to recent reports, India has registered a global first of a plant fungus infecting humans, which could have severe implications for public health, agriculture, and biodiversity.
How could a plant fungus potentially affect a human being and what does this mean to humanity? Is it a wake-up call to be aware of global climate change? Read on to know more about it.
How does a plant fungus affect humans?
Plant fungi can infect humans through various means such as inhalation, ingestion, or direct contact with plant material. These rare infections can cause severe disease in individuals with compromised immune systems or those exposed to a large inoculum. Understanding the factors contributing to human infection by plant pathogens is crucial in mitigating the spread of such infections.
Differences in plant and animal cell structure pose challenges for microbial invasion, but evidence of animal or human infection by phytopathogens exists.
Here are some factors that may assist in the spread of fungal diseases in humans:
- Factors such as global warming, ecosystem changes, travel, and urbanization can cause the emergence of newer fungal infections.
- Fungal infections in humans and animals require high-temperature tolerance, the ability to invade the host, tissue lysis, and immune system resistance.
- Fungal infections are more likely to occur in immunocompromised individuals, but large inoculums can affect healthy individuals.
- Environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity, can also affect the growth and spread of fungal pathogens in plants and animals.
- Fungi can become human pathogens by evading the process of phagocytosis by the human immune system.
- Some fungal species can grow at human body temperature due to their heat resistance nature and multiply by making humans their host.
- Plant pathogens may also enter through damaged skin and respiratory tract and thus affect the human body.
Case study of plant fungus affecting humans
A 61-year-old male plant mycologist from eastern India presented to the outpatient department with a history of hoarseness of voice, cough, recurrent pharyngitis, fatigue, difficulty in swallowing, and anorexia. He had been working with decaying material, mushrooms, and various plant fungi as part of his research activities for a long period. A CT scan of the neck revealed the presence of a right paratracheal abscess. The fungus could not be identified phenotypically, so it was sent to the “WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference & Research on Fungi of Medical Importance” in India.
Diagnosis and prognosis
- The patient presented with hoarseness of voice, cough, recurrent pharyngitis, fatigue, difficulty in swallowing, and anorexia for the last 3 months.
- CT scan revealed a right paratracheal abscess, which was confirmed by CT-guided aspiration of the abscess.
- Relevant investigations revealed septate hyphae on Gomori’s Methenamine Silver (GMS) staining, and the fungus was identified as Chondrostereum purpureum by DNA sequencing.
- The patient had a complete recovery and a two-year follow-up showed no evidence of recurrence.
What does this mean for the future of Humanity?
The recent case of a plant fungus, Chondrostereum purpureum, infecting a human in Kolkata is concerning as it may be the first instance of a new threat to humanity.
While most fungal species do not cause infections in humans, the adaptation of plant fungi to invade human cells could lead to more instances of human infections in the future.
Rising temperatures due to global warming may also facilitate the spread and survival of fungal populations, including those with pathogenic potential, posing a greater threat to human health.
Fungal infections are expected to become a significant challenge for human health in the years to come.
What can we do?
Preventing the spread of fungal infections in humans requires a multifaceted approach.
1. First and foremost, it is crucial to improve surveillance systems to identify emerging fungal infections in a timely manner. It is also important to raise awareness among healthcare professionals and the general public about the risk factors and symptoms of fungal infections.
2. Proper hygiene and infection control measures in healthcare settings can also help prevent the spread of fungal infections.
3. Additionally, measures to mitigate climate change, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, can help limit the spread of fungal populations and their ability to adapt to higher temperatures.
4. Finally, research to develop new treatments and vaccines for fungal infections is also needed.
Human infection by a plant fungus highlights how climate change can exacerbate and create health risks.
However, it is important to remember that climate change is preventable and that there are steps that individuals and governments can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate their effects.
By taking small actions to address climate change, we can help protect human health and prevent the emergence of new threats such as fungal infections. It is crucial that we prioritize the health of both the planet and its inhabitants by working together to create a more sustainable future.
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