Fungal infections are becoming more common in the United States. But unlike illnesses caused by bacteria or viruses. There is no vaccine to protect against fungal threats.While scientists aren’t worried that a fungal infection. Will wipe out humanity like HBO’s “The Last of Us. The infection is certainly cause for concern.
Fungi cause a wide range of ailments in humans. From athlete’s foot to life-threatening blood infections.
In the United States, fungal infections are responsible for more than 75,000 hospitalizations. And nearly 9 million outpatient visits each year, according. To the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2021, about 7,200 people died from fungal diseases. Those numbers, the CDC says, are likely an underestimate.
One type of fungus, Candida auris, can be resistant to all drugs used to treat it. And is especially dangerous for hospitalized and nursing home patients. The fungus was first identified in Japan in 2009. And has since been found in more than 30 countries, including the United States, the CDC said.
Climate change threatens to widen the range of different infection-causing fungi. The fungus that causes valley fever thrives in hot. Dry soil, and the fungus that causes the disease histoplasmosis prefers high humidity.
Despite the growing threat, there are currently no licensed. Vaccines—in the United States or abroad—to prevent fungal infections.
“These are the most important infectious diseases you haven’t heard of,” says Karen Norris. An immunologist and vaccine expert at the University of Georgia. “A vaccine has the potential to move forward and protect large numbers of individuals.”
Norris said the ultimate goal would be to develop. A single vaccine that protects against all fungal infections.
But developing a “pan-fungal” vaccine is incredibly challenging.
That’s because, he said, unlike the Covid vaccine. Which targets a single pathogen — the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A fungal vaccine would ideally protect against. Abroad spectrum of existing fungi, each biologically different from the next.
For now, Norris and his team decided to focus on. The three fungi responsible for most fatal fungal infections in the United States:
Aspergillus, a common mold that can cause lung and sinus infections. That can then spread to other parts of the body.
Candida, especially Candida auris, is a type of yeast. That can cause serious bloodstream infections, especially in people in healthcare settings.
pneumocystis, which can cause pneumonia.
In preclinical trials, the experimental vaccine developed by Norris and his team was shown. To produce anti-fungal antibodies in animals, including rhesus macaques. With funding support, researchers could start. And finish human vaccine trials within the next five years, he said.
In Arizona, researchers are focused on a vaccine to prevent valley fever, a lung infection caused. By the fungus Coccidioides. The fungus, typically found in the hot, dry soils of the Southwest. Is an “emerging threat,” Norris said, because climate change is expanding its range.
So far, the vaccine has proven effective in dogs, said John Galgiani. Director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence. At the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
Although experts know which fungi are best to target. Vaccine development has been slow. Mostly due to a lack of funding, said Galgiani, who is working to start a human trial for a valley fever vaccine.
He said many in the public and private sector do not see the fungal vaccine as a “crucial unmet need”. He said respiratory viruses, such as those that cause Covid, flu or measles.
Infect millions of people and cause thousands of hospitalizations worldwide each year. Viruses can be fatal to anyone anywhere in the world, he said. Illustrating the need for vaccines to prevent these diseases.
By comparison, hundreds of species of fungi can cause illness in humans. But the most common ones — such as those that infect the skin and nails. Or cause vaginal yeast infections or athlete’s foot — are non-life-threatening, according to Galgiani.
Additionally, severe cases are scattered across the United States, he said.
Valley fever, for example, is usually confined to the southern and western regions of the United States. And is usually severe in people with weakened immune systems.
Most people breathe in Aspergillus every day without getting sick. But it can be life-threatening for people with cystic fibrosis or asthma. Candida aureus infections are mostly confined. TYo healthcare settings and pose the greatest threat to very ill patients.
“As a risk-benefit investment proposition, it fails,” Galgiani said of developing a vaccine. “You don’t invest your retirement in it.” He said it could be eight years before a vaccine for the fungus is available in the United States.
But awareness of the impact of climate change on fungal infections