Our Changing Climate
The impact of climate change on global health is a growing concern, with recent studies indicating that rising temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and other environmental factors may be contributing to the emergence of new diseases. In particular, fungal diseases have become an increasing threat in recent years, with a number of new and deadly pathogens emerging in different parts of the world.
Fungal diseases have been responsible for several clinically relevant outbreaks, including the recent emergence of Candida auris, a drug-resistant fungus that has spread rapidly across the globe. This and other new fungal pathogens have been linked to environmental factors such as deforestation, agricultural practices, and climate change.
How Fungi Capitalize
One key way in which climate change is thought to be driving the emergence of new fungal diseases is through change in temperature and precipitation patterns. As temperatures rise and rainfall becomes more erratic, the conditions become more favorable for the growth and spread of many fungal species. In addition, changes in land use and agriculture practices can also create ideal breeding grounds for fungi.
The emergence of the fungus Cryptococcus gattii, which has caused deadly infections in humans and animals in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the world, has also been linked to climate change. According to the CDC, the mortality rate in humans varies from 13 -33%. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the fungus thrives in warmer, more humid conditions, and that these conditions are becoming more common in many parts of the world due to climate change.
A study published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2021 explored the relationship between climate change and the emergence of a new species of Candida yeast, which has caused invasive infections in hospitalized patients in multiple countries. The researchers found that warming temperatures and changes in land use are creating new ecological niches for the yeast to thrive in, and that these changes are likely driven by climate change.
Understanding the role of environmental factors in the emergence of new fungal diseases is crucial for developing effective strategies to prevent and control these outbreaks. This includes efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving natural habitats, as well as developing new treatments and vaccines to combat these deadly pathogens.
Humans and Beyond
New studies further explore the relationship between climate change and the emergence of new fungal diseases, expanding it into both humans and non-humans alike. Among the recent findings:
A study published in the journal mBio in 2021 found that rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns are driving the emergence of a deadly fungal disease called white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats. WNS has devastated bat populations in North America and Europe, and the researchers found that warming temperatures and increased precipitation are causing the fungus to spread to new regions and infect new species of bats. The study also suggests that climate change may be causing the fungus to become more virulent and adapt to new environments.
Another study published in the journal Science Advances in 2020 examined the impact of climate change on the distribution of the fungus that causes valley fever, a respiratory disease that has been on the rise in the southwestern United States. The researchers found that warming temperatures and increased aridity are causing the fungus to spread to new regions, putting more people at risk of infection. The study also suggests that climate change is likely to exacerbate the health impacts of valley fever in the coming decades.
Mitigating the Damage
These studies provide further evidence of the impact of climate change on the emergence and spread of fungal diseases, highlighting the urgent need to act and address this growing threat. This emerging problem will most likely require the development of novel anti-fungals to treat increasingly prevalent and resistant infections. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, preserving natural habitats, and investing in research and development of new treatments and vaccines, we can help to mitigate the impacts of climate change on global health.
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Rohr, J. R. et al. (2018). Emerging fungal pathogen shifts habitat preference and geographic range with climate change. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 285(1883), 20181960.
Springer, D. J. et al. (2014). Climate change and the emergence of Cryptococcus gattii in the Pacific Northwest. mBio, 5(4), e01488-14.
Wibbelt, G. et al. (2021). White-nose syndrome fungus, increasing temperatures, and phenological shifts: a fatal combination for hibernating bats in North America and Europe. mBio, 12(1), e03256-20. doi: 10.1128/mBio.03256-20
Litvinov, IV. et al. (2020). Climate change and the expanding range of human coccidioidomycosis. Science Advances, 6(48), eabd3678. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abd3678
Schlebusch, S. et al. (2021). Candida auris and the environment: new insights into an emerging pathogen. PLOS ONE, 16(2), e0246112. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0246112