Beware Killer Candida and other Lethal Fungi

A leading microbiologist, Professor Rosemary Barnes is personal chair of Cardiff University’s Institute of Infection & Immunity and she has warned of the increasing threat that killer fungi poses to humans and the environment. She says, “For most people, fungal disease means a bit of athlete’s foot or a manky-looking toe nail. These maybe irritating and unsightly, but fungi can do far worse. Fungi kill more people than malaria and tuberculosis worldwide.  They destroy about a third of all arable food crops. Some species have led to the extinction of many animal and plant species – sometimes even before the species has even been discovered.

Prof Barnes goes onto say, “Fungi were on the earth long before plants and other life forms. They readily adapt to increasing globalization and climate change and we need to rise to the challenge to deal with the threats posed by these versatile and intriguing organisms.”

Pictured right - Colonies in a petri dish of the fungus Aspergillus flavus

What are The Most Lethal Fungi?

  • Candida. Symptoms: skin and mucous infections, septicaemia. Death rate: 30-49%
  • Cryptococcal disease, Symptoms: meningitis. Death rate: 70% in the developing world
  • Aspergillosis. Symptoms: Cavitating lung disease, Death rate: 50-90% in the immunocompromised
  • Histoplasmosis, Symptoms: lung disease. Death rate: 30% in chronic disease
  • Pneumocystis. Symptoms: pneumonia. Death rate: 15-20%

The latest figures show that fungal diseases cause hundreds of thousands of deaths annually, following severe respiratory illness and infections of the blood stream. The scientists have identified more than two million species of fungi and they are considered to be among the most diverse and adaptable of all living organisms, predating humans by hundreds of millions of years.

One in Three People Infected

Only 600 species are known to cause disease and 99% of these diseases can be attributed to 30 kinds of fungi. Whilst relatively few species cause human disease, they are incredibly common with approximately one-in-three people infected.

Most infections are trivial but serious invasive diseases affect 2.5 million people worldwide. Invasive fungal disease is very difficult to treat and can be distressing for patients, causing gross disfigurement. Other strains of fungi can decimate crops leading to billions of pounds of food wastage and contribute to global poverty.

Flooding and Fungal Thriving

Recent flooding across UK and the rest of Europe has exacerbated the situation further. Prof Barnes reported:“Flooding caused by adverse weather conditions has caused a worsening situation of home dampness and indoor mould growth, which are associated with asthma, rhinitis and other respiratory problems. Five and a half million people in the UK alone are living with asthma and half of these cases are down to an allergic reaction to fungi.”

Emerging fungal diseases such as Dutch Elm, ash dieback, sweet chestnut blight and sudden oak death are also a real concern for Britain’s forests, She continued:“Deforestation from fungal pathogens increases carbon dioxide emissions and contributes to global warming. Other diseases attack insect populations that are crucial for plant pollination. For example, microsporidial fungal infection contributes to colony collapse disorder that has brought a massive decline in domestic bee populations – crop yields are decreased by as much as a third when bee pollinations are affected.

Prof Barnes says that the real impact of fungus on our health, environment and economy is largely unknown because we need better diagnostic methods and there is inadequate research investment in this area.
About Professor Rosemary Barnes
Professor Barnes is personal chair of Cardiff University’s Institute of Infection & Immunity. Her research interests include infections in immunocompromised patients with particular focus in the rapid diagnosis of invasive fungal infection.Sheheadsthe Regional Mycology Unit in Wales and previously chaired the steering Committee of the UK Clinical Mycology Network.

Useful links:
The Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections
Leading International Fungal Education
Click here for images of fungi
A rare lung infection caused by inhaling spores of the fungus Aspergillus Full medical glossary
A respiratory disease featuring attacks of breathlessness and wheezing due to inflammation and narrowing of the upper airways. There is often an allergic component. Full medical glossary
A fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. Full medical glossary
A disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. Full medical glossary
The large intestine. Full medical glossary
A fluid-filled, enclosed pouch developing in a bodily structure as part of a disease process Full medical glossary
The process of determining which condition a patient may have. Full medical glossary
Invasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. Full medical glossary
An element present in haemoglobin in the red cells. Full medical glossary
A serious disease caused by parasitic protozoa called plasmodia. Full medical glossary
Inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, due to infection Full medical glossary

  A bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.

Full medical glossary
Inflammation of one or both lungs. Full medical glossary
The medical term for a runny nose, due to inflammation and mucus secretion in the nasal lining Full medical glossary
A serious condition in which there is rapid mulitiplication of bacteria and in which bacterial toxins are present in the blood. Full medical glossary
Relating to injury or concern. Full medical glossary
An infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. Full medical glossary