Impact of climate change and natural disasters on fungal infections

How do fungal infections vary with the climate crisis and natural disasters

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Impact of climate change and natural disasters on fungal infections
© Wikimedia commons

Many species of fungi can cause pathologies in humans, animals and plants. Some microscopic fungi are pathogenic for humans and animals and cause mycoses, such as ringworm and athlete's foot. Among the agents are some fungi of the Trichophyton and Microsporum genera.

The plants are attacked by several fungi, which cause various pathologies: root rot, such as fungi of the Armillaria or Rosellinia genus. Collar rot, such as those caused by Phytophthora or Pythium; presence of mold on the leaves, as in the case of vine powdery mildew; rot on fruits, such as mushrooms of the Monilinia genus; drying of the branches, such as fungi of the Fusarium or Verticillium genus. Downy mildew is certainly a pathogen but is no longer classified in the kingdom of fungi.

Aspergillus spores are found almost everywhere; we are regularly and almost constantly exposed to them. Such exposure is a normal part of the human condition and generally does not cause harmful effects.

However, Aspergillus can cause disease in three main ways: through the production of mycotoxins, through the induction of allergic responses, and through localized or systemic infections. With the last two categories, the immune status of the host is critical. Allergies and asthma are thought to be caused by an active immune response against the presence of fungal spores or hyphae. On the contrary, in invasive aspergillosis, the immune system is in crisis and the defense is not effective.

Fungi
Fungi© Wikimedia commons
 

But how do fungal infections vary with the climate crisis and natural disasters? The study: Impact of climate change and natural disasters on fungal infections, published on The Lancet. Microbe, did a retrospective on the subject.

“The effects of climate change and natural disasters on fungal pathogens and risks for fungal diseases remain incompletely understood. In this literature review, we examined how fungi are adapting to an increase in Earth's temperature and becoming more thermotolerant, which is strengthening fungal activity, fitness and virulence.

Climate change is creating conditions favorable to the emergence of new fungal pathogens and is preparing fungi to adapt to previously inhospitable environments, such as polluted habitats and urban areas, leading to geographical spread of some fungi in traditionally non-endemic areas.

Climate change is also contributing to increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters, which can trigger epidemics of fungal diseases and increase the spread of fungal pathogens. The populations most affected are those socially vulnerable. More awareness, research, funding and policies from key stakeholders are needed to mitigate the effects of climate change and disaster-related fungal diseases," said the researchers.