It appears that pathogens are more likely to endanger our health as a result of climate change.
Candida auris, a fungus first reported in the US back in 2016, seems to be one of these pathogens that pose such a danger to us all.
The CDC classifies it as an “urgent threat” primarily because it can be fatal, it spreads quickly in healthcare settings, and many strains are resistant to every treatment.
And it’s rapidly spreading all over the world! According to a recent CDC study, the number of confirmed cases nearly doubled to 1,471 in 2021.
Unlike most fungi, Candida auris can spread from person to person, which makes it a particular concern, according to Dr. Scott Roberts.
Infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Syra Madad also says that “Current C. auris trends are quite worrying and require a nationwide call to action. Global warming, for instance, may be leading to the better adaptation of C. auris to higher temperatures and greater susceptibility of infection to humans.”
The ability of fungi to adapt to higher temperatures can help them thrive in the human body as well, which is rather concerning.
This kind of yeast is able to colonize the skin and digestive system as well as other parts of the body.
Close contact with someone who has the fungus colonized or infected them is how it is spread.
According to Roberts, a person doesn’t need to exhibit symptoms in order to be contagious.
According to the CDC, it can even spread through contaminated surfaces, where it is able to survive for weeks after.
The only available treatment is an intravenous antifungal medication, but a recent CDC report, which was published in Annals of Internal Medicine, noted that the number of cases resistant to echinocandins has tripled.
According to Roberts, some isolates are resistant to all three of the main classes of antifungal drugs available on the market at the moment, and the majority are resistant to one of the most widely used antifungals, fluconazole.
It needs to be mentioned, however, that medication-resistant cases are relatively uncommon for now.
According to Roberts, C. auris more often than not does not result in any infection.
Madad says that “Those at the highest risk for severe infections include people who are sick from other health conditions already and are immunocompromised, who have frequent or long stays in healthcare facilities, or have tubes or lines that go into their body, such as feeding tubes, central venous catheters,, breathing tubes. The infection can prove deadly for 30-60 percent of those infected with invasive C. auris.”
Climate change is the most plausible explanation for why C. auris is only now beginning to spread globally.
Roberts stresses that “A major hypothesis as to why this was not seen before is that this fungus evolved with climate change. It’s better able to withstand higher temperatures when compared to similar types of fungi.”
At the same time, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is placing a strain on the healthcare system, and the CDC has identified other factors that may be contributing to the rise in cases as well, such as higher screening rates.
According to Roberts, hand washing and other forms of hygiene are the most crucial steps people can take to prevent the fungus, especially in healthcare facilities.
Roberts also predicted that as the world’s temperatures continue to rise, more pathogens will flourish, unfortunately.
“Climate change is sure to increase the risk of fungal threats, and Candida auris is a good example. I suspect over time we’ll see both rising cases of Candida auris and also new species emerge.”
Madad concludes that “While C. auris outbreaks aren’t indicative of [a scenario such as] HBO’s The Last of Us — and far from it — the reality is that as climate change persists, its impact on infectious diseases … will only grow.”