Is Climate Change Responsible for Rise in Deadly Fungal Infection?

The effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent these days, but a new study warns that there are many more consequences we might not even be able to see. For one, climate change may be the cause behind the massive growth of drug-resistant fungus that is causing widespread disease. 

This proposal comes researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.  They have proposed that diagnoses of infection with a specific type of yeast, known as Candida auris, is becoming more common.  The fungal infection was first discovered as the cause for an ear infection, hence its name “auris,” which is Latin for “ear”. 

According to new data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 587 cases of Candida auris were reported in March, alone.  First discovered in Japan in 2009, the first US case of infection by this drug-resistant fungus was reported in 2015. 

In the study, researchers wanted to examine how climate change may have influenced the growth of this organism, particularly regarding its thermal vulnerabilities (in comparison to its closest organic relatives).  Sure enough, the study found this fungus has the ability to adapt to a climate as it warms.  

The strange thing about Candida auris is that it has not spread throughout the world like a virus would.  Viruses radiate outward from an original location. Candida auris, on the other hand, appears to have simultaneously appeared—out of nowhere—in different parts of the world; from India to South Africa to South America.  

Of course, this preponderance of cohorts mystified scientists: it is rare that something like this would suddenly appear on three separate continents.  This prompted the theory that the emergence of this fungus must be the result of an inherent change in the planet’s environment.  In this case, obviously, the change was a gradual rise in temperature.  

Study co-author Dr. Arturo Casadevall comments that this is particularly strange because fungus tends to prefer cooler ambient temperatures. 

The Bloomberg School chairman of molecular microbiology and immunology goes on to say, “The argument that we are making based on comparison to other close relative fungi is that as the climate has gotten warmer, some of these organisms, including Candida Auris, have adapted to the higher temperature, and as they adapt, they break through humans’ protective temperatures.” 

The results of this study have been published in the journal for the American Society for Microbiology.

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