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Rise of Drug-Resistant Fungal Disease Could Be Due to Global Warming

Health + Wellness
Rise of Drug-Resistant Fungal Disease Could Be Due to Global Warming
Candida auris was first identified in 2009. It causes serious multidrug-resistant infections in hospitalized patients and has high mortality rates. Kateryna Kon / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

A new analysis warns that "global warming may have played a pivotal role" in the recent rise of a multidrug-resistant fungal superbug, sparking questions and concerns about the emerging public health threats of the human-caused climate crisis.


Reporting on the research Tuesday, CNN outlined the history of Candida auris:

Until recently, scientists considered it a mystery how C. auris popped up in more than 30 countries around the globe a decade after it was first discovered in 2009. It emerged simultaneously on three continents — in India, Venezuela, and South Africa — between 2012 and 2015, each strain being genetically distinct.

The study — published Tuesday in mBio, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology — argues that Candida auris "may be the first example of a new fungal disease emerging from climate change."

"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 human's protective temperatures," lead author Arturo Casadevall, chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a statement.

Fungal diseases are relatively uncommon in humans because of body temperature — but if they adapt to rising temperatures, and aren't easily treatable with medications, they could increasingly endanger human health on a global scale. Casadevall warned that while C. auris may be the first fungal disease whose emergence scientists have tied to rising temperatures, it potentially won't be the last.

"Global warming may lead to new fungal diseases that we don't even know about right now," he said. "What this study suggests is this is the beginning of fungi adapting to higher temperatures, and we are going to have more and more problems as the century goes on."

Stat News published a piece Tuesday that mentions the new study but also addresses a series of pressing questions about the emerging superbug with help from experts who include Tom Chiller, chief of mycotic diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Tejas Bouklas, an assistant professor in the department of biomedical sciences at Long Island University.

Among those questions is: "Could C. auris help other fungi adapt to be bigger threats to humans?"

That's a question Bouklas is wondering about. "The more ubiquitous it becomes, the more problematic. Because now it could potentially transmit DNA to other Candida species. And maybe even bacteria," she said.
That idea is not far-fetched. Fungi can mate sexually, Chiller pointed out, allowing them to swap large amounts of DNA.

In light of the potential impacts of the climate crisis on public health highlighted in the study, Casadevall charged in his statement that "we need to make investments in better surveillance of fungal diseases."

"We are pretty good at surveilling influenza and diseases that cause diarrhea or are contagious, but fungal diseases are not usually contagious and therefore nobody has really bothered to document them well," he said. "If more fungi were to cross over, you really wouldn't know until somebody started reporting them in the literature."

Chiller, in his interview with Stat News, agreed that more research on the superbug is vital to protecting the public.

Understanding C. auris's backstory is crucial, Chiller said, because "these things are going to continue to emerge. And understanding how they emerge and where they emerge might lead us to prevention strategies or reactive strategies or preparation strategies for the next big thing."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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