Fungal infections are a growing threat
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Fungal infections are a growing threat

(AFP) – Fungal infections, that is, those caused by fungi, remain underestimated worldwide, although they are associated with a very high mortality rate. A threat that is all the greater as resistance to treatment is also increasing.

At the National Reference Center for Invasive Mycoses and Antifungals at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, fungi are carefully examined.

Researchers there examine about 800 samples every year: strains of yeast or filamentous fungi (molds) are analyzed in culture, especially under a microscope, to determine their species and their possible resistance to treatment.

“Visible or invisible, mushrooms are everywhere,” announces Fanny Lanternier, an infectious disease specialist at the Necker Hospital and head of the Pasteur Institute’s help center, who is launching Pasteurdon, an annual operation to raise donations for research, on October 4th. .

Mycologists believe that there are at least 1 million species on Earth.

Fungi reproduce by spreading microscopic spores. These spores are often present in the air and soil and can be inhaled or ingested in food. Some yeasts are also part of the microbiota and are present on the skin and in the digestive tract.

Some common yeast infections are mild and usually easy to treat, such as oral thrush, vaginal or yeast infections, and yeast infections of the skin and scalp.

Although most spores present on the skin or inhaled into the lungs have no effects on healthy people, they can cause severe infections in patients with weakened immune systems.

– Cryptococcus –

“They will affect particularly fragile patients who, for example, have cancer, HIV infection, have undergone a transplant or have undergone major surgery,” lists Professor Lanternier.

The incidence of some fungal infections has increased in recent years due to the increased use of immune-suppressing treatments for other diseases, she continues.

Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a list of 19 mushrooms that should be studied as a priority, citing a “serious threat to public health.”

Particularly problematic species, according to WHO, include Cryptococcus neoformans (which can lead to meningitis in some cases), Candida auris (which can cause infections in various organs, especially the brain) or Aspergillus fumigatus (which can cause lung disease).

These infections are associated with very high mortality rates, in some cases up to 60%.

The prevalence and geographic scope of endemic fungal diseases, limited to certain areas, are increasing worldwide as a result of global warming and increased travel.

– Tulip fields –

In the spring, the CDC warned of an increase in cases of Candida auris, a new yeast worldwide, that was gradually spreading in health care settings across the country.

France remains little affected by this problem. But to prevent the emergence and spread of these yeasts in French hospitals, since this summer it has been recommended to screen for Candida auris colonization in patients admitted after hospitalization abroad.

Despite growing concern, very little attention and resources are being given to fungal infections, the WHO laments.

Increasingly common pathogens are also becoming more resistant to treatment, as are antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“We use antifungals (medicines, editor’s note) to treat patients and also in the fields to prevent certain fungi from attacking crops,” explains Sarah Dellier, a mycologist at the Hospital Saint-Louis (Paris) and a researcher at the Institut Pasteur.

Over time, “some fungi, such as Aspergillus, become resistant to antifungal drugs, and it becomes more difficult to treat patients infected with them,” she continues.

This resistance was particularly evident in the Netherlands, where large quantities of antifungal drugs were distributed to tulip fields.

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