A Deadly Fungus Is Spreading and Science Has No Answers
Photo: Marcelo Leal / Unsplash

A Deadly Fungus Is Spreading and Science Has No Answers

Can we catch a break for a second? Damn!

The first season of HBO's The Last of Us, where a deadly fungal virus wipes out most of humanity, might be over. But that doesn't mean you can stop worrying. The "deadly fungal" part wasn't fiction.

In fact, over the last year, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have been warning about different types of fungi that could pose a threat. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports, a study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that one fungus, Candida auris, has spread to 35 states with at least 2,377 known infections in the U.S. in 2022. The first reported case was 15 years ago in Japan. It didn't make it to the U.S. until 2013. Only 53 cases were reported in 2016, so the jump to last year’s number is significant.

The report says most of these infections are happening in long-term healthcare facilities. Buddy Hammerman, the chief medical officer at Select Medical Holdings Corp., which stopped admitting patients at one of its hospitals due to a fungal outbreak, had some chilling words about the situation. "Patients are becoming colonized with this organism and it's becoming smarter than we are," Hammerman told WSJ.

Candida auris can infect a person's skin and is resistant to disinfectants like bleach and alcohol. If it gets into the bloodstream, it can be severe, with a mortality rate of up to 60 percent. Older people or those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable; healthy individuals are much less likely to be infected. Symptoms include fever and chills.

Not all fungi are deadly, of course. Some are delicious (or mind-warping). But fungal infections annually kill about 1.6 million people around the world. And that could get much worse; as the aforementioned HBO show warned us, the global rise of temperatures is making for a more hospitable environment for funguses. Scientists confirm that fungi may be adapting to higher temperatures, making previously harmless species more dangerous over time. And because they don't transmit person-to-person but by airborne spores, they can be harder to detect or stop.

Just something to think about as you wait for the next season of Last of Us—that is, if we make it that long. [Puts on N95 mask]

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