Fungal Fright: Killer Spores

In preparation for Thursday’s post– I did a quick Google University search for “deadly fungus” and up came Cryptococcus– again. I first blogged about this fungus here.

The interesting thing about fungal infections is that they are like the unwanted orphans of pathogens. Their infections can take a while to manifest and be equally as difficult to treat– often requiring months of anti-fungal therapy.

I first blogged about Cryptococcus two years ago but have you even heard of it? The reason bacteria and viral infections get much more press is that they tend to spread and manifest much more quickly– thereby meeting our need for instant gratification. We’ll know, likely within a few weeks, whether you’re going to live or die.

Not so much with a fungal infection.

A person gets infected by cryptococcus by directly inhaling the spores. There are two species that are responsible for MOST human infections. C. neoformans, found in the soil, generally infects people with weakened immune systems like those with the HIV virus. The other, C. gattii, affects more healthy populations.

What’s interesting is that these fungus spores are continuing to spread along the western sea board. Compared to when I first wrote about this infection, the death rate has risen to about 33% from 25%. What’s more interesting is that the same fungal infection for Canadians only has a death rate of about 10%.

It makes me wonder if the difference in geography plays into the host, the fungus, and/or the ability to fight the infection. All good plot points for a medical thriller.

Treatment is antifungal medications for many months but if these prove inneffective then surgery may be required.

What about you? Have you heard of this deadly spore?

You can check out the following links if you want to read more about Cryptococcus and these links are also where I got the information for this post.

http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2013/05/28/cryptococcus_spread_of_a_deadly_fungus_106543.html

http://www.cdc.gov/fungal/cryptococcosis-gattii/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20570552

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2669189/

Killer California Spores

I was recently on a trip through the Midwest visiting my aunt and uncle. Shout out to Linda!! My uncle asks if I’ve heard of the new “killer virus” that is in California. Now, this peaks my interest for several reasons. One, as a nurse, I hadn’t heard about any new virus but know if it’s in the news, parents will soon be asking/worrying about it. And two, as a novelist, what mayhem could this add to future book ideas?

I immediately go to what I refer to as “Google University” and type in “killer California virus” in the news search engine. What comes up is not a recent story but one from about a year ago about fungal infections caused by a spores. The following is from a CNN news piece from April 2010:

Image courtesy of healthyairusa.com

“The fungus, known as Cryptococcus gattii (or C. gattii), has infected dozens of humans and animals–including cats, dogs, and dolphins–in Washington and Oregon in the past five years. While rare, the fungus has been lethal in about 25 percent of the people in the U.S. who have developed infections, according to Edmond Byrnes III, a doctoral student in molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University and one of the lead authors of a new study about the fungus.”

The thing that stuck out for me was the death rate of 25% of infected individuals. Though it infected relatively few people, 1:4 died. The next striking thing when I delved more into it is that some were healthy people without pre-existing conditions. Though, some were immunocompromised as well. Immunocompromised patients typically can have a difficult time fighting fungal infections. Here’s a JAMA article about Cryptococcus gattii.

 http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/304/9/955.full

The last thing that was fascinating was its infection among animals and humans. That got me thinking… fungal infections typically aren’t transmitted from person to person. You’re generally infected by directly inhaling the spores. What if it mutated so that it was transmitted from person to person and carried a death rate of 25% for all people? That was my first plot idea.

Does this real life fungus give you any plot ideas? List one in the comments section.