If you’ve been watching “The Last of Us,” you might already be concerned about a possibly devastating impact of a widespread fungal outbreak.
Although that HBO show is a worst-case scenario, there has been a rise in such infections recently that has concerned the scientific community.
A wide-ranging issue
There are common and generally innocuous types of fungal infections (think athlete’s foot), but then there are far more serious strains that can lead to hospitalization or even death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 9 million people see a doctor, roughly 75,000 are admitted to the hospital, and around 7,200 individuals die as a result of a fungal infection. The true numbers in each category are likely even higher than that.
The underlying problem
While the infection itself can be devastating, particularly when it becomes bloodborne, the real problem for healthcare providers is that a growing number of cases are not effectively treated by antibiotics and other drugs.
Even if a healthy person might have a pretty good chance of fighting off the infection, experts are increasingly worried about immunocompromised folks or elderly patients in nursing homes.
Candida auris is one especially troubling fungus, which was first discovered in Japan about 14 years ago and is now spreading through at least 30 countries.
Making matters worse
Scientists say that the climate crisis is only making it easier for spores — like the kind that causes valley fever — to spread beyond the hot, dry climates where they have been historically found.
Furthermore, it’s nearly impossible to develop a vaccine that would protect against the many types of fungus that can cause serious illness or death.
Finally, experts say there’s just not enough funding available to take a holistic approach to this growing public health problem.