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Next Pandemic Might Come From Fungus Warns Greek Scientist

pandemic fungus
Pin mold on a peach. Credit: Zephyris, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia

The next pandemic might come from fungus, as terrifyingly has been shown in the TV series “The Last Of Us”, prominent Greek scientist Sotiris Tsiodras warned this week.

Tsiodras, who served as the Director of the Greek Infectious Diseases Committee during the Covid-19 pandemic, told a conference of healthcare experts in Athens that “the next threat may come from a fungus. Fungi are of great concern to scientists. It is known that there is a fungus in Arizona that if it infects the body, it causes a disease like tuberculosis.”

The Greek scientist was referring to Valley fever which is caused by the fungus Coccidioides, which thrives in the soil of our arid-desert climate. During periods of immense heat, the fungus dries, allowing it to fragment and spread as it is carried by the wind.

If inhaled into the lungs of humans, household pets (including dogs or cats), or livestock the fungal spores can begin to divide rapidly in the body, leading to infection. In 2021 alone, Arizona reported 11,489 human infections and 1,077 hospitalizations.

However, this is estimated to be only a fraction of all cases as 60% of those infected remain asymptomatic, the Arizona Department of Health Services notes.

Scientists say that fungal diseases are appearing in places they have never been seen before, and previously harmless or mildly harmful fungi are turning deadly for people. One likely reason for this worsening fungal situation, scientists say, is climate change.

Shifts in temperature and rainfall patterns are expanding where disease-causing fungi occur; climate-triggered calamities can help fungi disperse and reach more people; and warmer temperatures create opportunities for fungi to evolve into more dangerous agents of disease.

The fungus pandemic depicted in “The Last Of Us”

Tsiodras pointed out the popularity of the TV series “The Last Of Us” which deals with a fungus. According to the script, it is the mutant fungus, which has evolved so much that it is capable of turning people into zombies.

“The huge impact it had proves how important the interaction of the environment and people is,” he noted.

At the beginning of the first episode of The Last Of Us, there’s a fictional 1968 TV broadcast in which an epidemiologist talks eerily about the likelihood of a fungus-driven pandemic.

“One [fungi] gene could mutate, any one of them could be capable of burrowing in our brains and taking control not of millions of us but billions of us; puppets with poisoned minds, permanently fixed on one unifying goal, to spread the infection to every last human alive by any means necessary. And there are no treatments for this, no preventatives, no cures, they don’t exist and it’s not even possible to make them. We lose.”

The Greek scientist clarified that “millions of years would be needed to create conditions that could possibly cause such an evolution in fungi. What is certain is that all this shows the need for us all to mobilize and launch measures to reduce the impact of both fungi and all pathogens”.

Bacteria develop resistance mechanisms

Referring to antimicrobial resistance, Tsiodras cited typical examples of the problem as it has emerged in various countries.

He said, for example, of staphylococcus, it can develop into a “very bad microbe, which has been linked to a range of complications, from necrotizing skin infections to fatal pneumonias.”

He described how easily it had spread in the Netherlands, from pig farms and from animals to workers and from them to their environments, creating a public health problem. From the same country he drew another example of microbial resistance to antibiotics.

“Despite the battle fought with antibiotics, bacteria develop resistance mechanisms. Aspergillus is a dangerous microbe that causes severe and fatal pneumonia. Excavation for horticultural work on the site of a hospital in the Netherlands found resistant aspergillus in the soil, which could very easily re-invade the hospital, threatening patients,” he said.

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