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Plant Fungus Shocks Researchers: First Human Infection Raises Questions



In a startling turn of events, a typically plant-exclusive fungus, Chondrostereum purpureum, has caused flu-like symptoms in a human, marking a world-first occurrence. This fungus, known for causing silver leaf disease in various flora, particularly roses, typically turns leaves silver and can be fatal. Spread through airborne spores, it was previously unknown to infect humans until now.


The unprecedented case unfolded in Kolkata, India, where a 61-year-old man, who had no history of illnesses, experienced symptoms including cough, fatigue, difficulty swallowing, and a hoarse voice for three months. Surprisingly, the patient was a plant mycologist working with mushrooms and various plant fungi.


The fungal infection's discovery occurred through scans that revealed a paratracheal abscess in the man's neck, partially obstructing his airway. Medical professionals drained the abscess and prescribed daily antifungal medicine for two months. Remarkably, two years later, the patient remains in good health with no recurrence of the infection.


However, this unique case has led the treating medics to raise important questions about the potential for plant pathogens to cause diseases in healthy humans and animals. They believe that if fungi can elude the host immune system, they may establish themselves as human pathogens, presenting new challenges in the field of mycology.


The ability of fungi to infect humans is a complex matter. There are millions of fungal

species, with only around 150,000 identified. Those capable of infecting humans can do so because they can adapt to the human body's temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. In this case, researchers in India successfully cultured the fungus in a laboratory under the same conditions. Typically, fungi tend to affect individuals with compromised immune systems, but the patient in Kolkata had no apparent risk factors.


Professor Elaine Bignell from the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology emphasized that underlying factors, possibly genetic immunodeficiency, contributed to this

unique case. She acknowledged that the patient's experimental work with the fungus could have exposed him to a significant number of spores.


While there is no immediate cause for alarm, Professor Bignell noted that this case

highlights the need for further research into this organism and its potential health

implications. It's a reminder that there is much to learn about fungi and their interactions with humans.


Additionally, with climate change affecting the planet's temperature, concerns have been raised about the emergence of known and unknown fungi as potential threats.


Mycologists have discussed the concept of "pathogens in waiting" that could become

problematic under specific conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) has even listed 19 fungi as potential threats to public health, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant increase in fungal infections, further emphasizing the need for continued research and vigilance in this area.


(Report by Sakthy Edamaruku)

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