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Seriousness of fungal infections neglected by medical services

By Tim Sandle     Jul 10, 2016 in Health
There are many pathogens that pose risks to human populations. Despite fungal infections killing more people than malaria, or from certain cancers like breast cancer, the level of research into combating fungal diseases is relatively low in comparison.
The concern about fungal disease risks has been raised by Professor Neil Gow, who hails the University of Aberdeen. In an interview with the BBC, Professor Gow points out that more than one million people die from fungal infections around the world each year.
While there are over five million different types of fungi worldwide and more than half the world’s fungi found in the environment are potentially hazardous to human health, it remains that the majority of human infections relate to three types of fungi:
Aspergillus - which affects the lungs,
Cryptococcus - which mainly attacks the brain,
Candida - which infects mucosal membranes including in the mouth and genitals
With these, there is concern about a new strain of Candida, responsible of infections in the U.K. Health campaigner Lynn Ahearn (@SoulCoachLynn) has reported, via social media, that the strain of concern is Candida auris. Candida auris is recognized as an emerging pathogen that has many hospitals and health agencies worried across the world.
Returning to Professor Gow's points, the academic adds further: “Most people know about mild fungal infections, but nobody's ever died from athlete's foot. However, a million people die a year from fungal infections and we need to understand these different types of infection and how to deal with them." The Professor is calling upon an increase in research for tackling fungal diseases.
A related risk exists with pharmaceutical manufacturing. Contamination risk posed by fungi to pharmaceutical products is greater than the level of industrial and academic interest would suggest. With pharmaceuticals, research suggests that the number of fungal incidents and recalls is increasing. Among the top reasons for many recalls of medicinal products are improper sterilization and deficiencies in aseptic processing, as well as package integrity deficiencies.
Of different types of fungal contamination incidences some of the most damaging have been due to melanized fungi (‘black mold’), such as Exserohilum rostratum.
Recent research suggests that the number of recalls of pharmaceutical products due to fungal contamination have increased from 5 percent to 21 percent, over a ten year period. An area of weakness could be a lack of knowledge by microbiologists, most of whom tend to be bacteriologists by training. With this, accurate fungal identification is needed if the contamination source has to be determined and tracked.
Returning to Professor Gow, the scientist summarizes why concern about fungal infections — whether from the environment or from medicinal products — is important: “"Fungi are extremely tough and manipulate the immune system to prevent themselves being recognised, they are very slippery customers."
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