Fungal infections - a new 'world threat'


Why is the topic of fungal infections in the news now?

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen say that one million people around the world die from fungal infections each year. According to Prof Neil Gow from the University, worldwide, fungal infections kill more people than breast cancer or malaria but are not considered a priority. The topic has also made recent headlines because public health officials in England say a new strain of fungi, called Candida auris, has caused an outbreak in one hospital and they are monitoring its progress.

How many types of fungi are there?

There are more than five million types of fungi, but only three main groups cause the majority of deaths in people: Candida, Cryptococcus and Aspergillosis.

Which infections are caused by Candida?

Candida is the fungal infection most people may have heard about. Candida albicans causes oral and vaginal thrush. These are common and often easy to treat infections however candida can also be life-threatening. When it is, there are usually factors present which make infection more likely, such as the patient having low numbers of infection-fighting white blood cells, having long courses of antibiotics, having indwelling lines used in chemotherapy, or having had abdominal surgery.

Who is commonly affected by Aspergillosis?

Aspergillosis is usually seen in patients with very advanced HIV infection. This makes them very susceptible to infection, as HIV attacks the immune system. Aspergillosis is mostly a lung disease leading to severe, difficult-to-treat pneumonia.

What is Cryptococcus and how is it transmitted?

Cryptococcus is a yeast found in soil and dried pigeon droppings. Infection is usually transmitted by inhalation (it is breathed into the body). Patients with poor immune systems develop progressive lung disease which spreads through the body. Cryptococcus can infect any organ, but it is seen mainly in the brain and central nervous system. It is often found to affect patients with meningitis.

Which other infections are more commonly caused by fungi?

Common infections include fungal scalp infection (scalp ringworm)fungal groin infection (tinea cruris)fungal nail infection (tinea unguium) and athlete's foot (tinea pedis).