Most people do not take fungi seriously because it seems that, when it comes to infections and microorganisms, there is always something out there to get you that seems way worse than just a little itching.
But what most people don’t know is that fungi can kill, and it does. About 1.5 million people die yearly due to fungi-related infections, even if just 300 of about 1.5 million fungi species are responsible for most deadly cases. That is an alarmingly high number of deaths considering that it kills as many people as HIV does in a year.
The truth is that fungi can do more than just give us smelly and itchy feet. Some fungal infections can eat away at our lungs, our circulatory system, and many other organs, and they are very difficult to fight off once they have taken hold of their host.
What are the most fatal fungal infections?
Caused by the Aspergillus fungi, this type of fungal disease occurs mostly in people with compromised respiratory systems, such as people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or tuberculosis, even if their immune systems still work.
During this type of infection, a fungal ball starts growing in the lungs without producing any early symptoms. Then, as time passes, the infected can experience chest pains, coughing up blood and internal bleeding. The latter can be particularly fatal.
Caused by the Candida yeast, this type of fungal infection happens in mucous areas such as the mouth, the throat or the vagina, as well as the bloodstream.
While most people without problems with their immune system can fight off the infection, people who have HIV or other conditions that diminish their capacity to fight them can quickly develop complications.
Invasive candidiasis can lead to sepsis, a condition in which the immune response damages organs in the body, which can then lead to organ failure and death. The worst part is that candidiasis is actually very common.
Caused by the Cryptococcus Gattii, a type of fungi that grows in tropical areas, it penetrates the body of the host through the airways, and it can spread in the lungs or even get to the nervous system.
If the infection affects the brain or the spinal cord, a case of swelling known as meningitis could happen. It is worth mentioning that meningitis can be fatal if left untreated.
Just these three infections are responsible for more than 90% of the fatal cases of fungal infections in the world, and the worst part is that, although they are considered preventable, there is still no vaccine that can help the body fight against fungi.
The main way to prevent a fungal infection is to avoid exposure. Some hospitals forbid flowers and plants because decomposing plant matter can foster the growth of those types of fungi.
One should also be mindful of areas of the home that are generally moist and warm, as mold and other types of fungi can quickly develop under those conditions.
People with compromised respiratory systems should work extra hard by avoiding humid places and using protective gear such as using masks or respirators.
Lastly, if you happen to be at risk because of some immunodeficiency, don’t wait to be checked by your doctor if you think you may have been exposed to fungi.