a commonly inhaled mold nearly killed him

Aspergillus fumigatus mushroom illustration

David Erwin did not pass far from death after breathing in a ubiquitous environmental mold, Aspergillus fumigatus. This mushroom was recently classified as “dangerous” for health by the WHO.

David Erwin, a 60-year-old American, had never heard of theAspergillus fumigatus before developing a fungal infection that nearly killed him in the spring of 2021. This fungus, whose spores are carried by the air, is ubiquitous inside and outside homes. It is impossible not to breathe it. Harmless to the majority of the population, it poses a risk to the most vulnerable people.

David Erwin had just completed chemotherapy for throat cancer in 2020 when he started experiencing new symptoms. “He was losing the use of his right arm and right leg and suffered from back pain such that for months he could barely move without screaming,” reports The Wall Street Journal. A few months later, a neurosurgeon removed a suspicious mass in his brain. Examinations revealed that it was a colony of fungi belonging to the genus Aspergillus. They also spread to his lungs and spine.

A fungus ranked among the most dangerous to health

Fungal infections are on the rise across the world. They kill more than 1.6 million people every year, according to Global Action for Fungal Infections, a research and fundraising organization. They are especially dangerous for people who are immunocompromised, have an illness, or are taking medications that suppress immune function. Those most at risk are those with cancer, HIV/AIDS, organ transplant, chronic respiratory disease or post-primary tuberculosis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) sounded the alarm on Tuesday, October 25 by publishing the very first list of 19 species of fungi dangerous to health. The aim is “to guide and stimulate research and policy interventions to strengthen the global response to fungal infections and antifungal resistance”. In this list, we find theAspergillus fumigatus ranked among the most dangerous. The report notes that the increase in the number of cases is linked in particular to “the excessive use of antifungals in agriculture” which have caused resistance to drugs.

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