In a nutshell
- A plant mycologist from Kolkata is the first human to get infected by a killer plant fungus.
- The pathogen identified as Chondrostereum purpureum typically affects plants.
- Global warming, alteration of the ecosystem, international travel, and commerce may be responsible for the novel infection.
A man from Kolkata becomes the first person in the world to get infected by a potentially fatal plant fungus. The plant mycologist contracted the infection from close contact with decaying material, plant mushrooms, and various plant fungi as part of his research.
The 61-year-old sought treatment, complaining of hoarseness, cough, recurrent pharyngitis, fatigue, difficulty in swallowing, and anorexia, according to the journal Medical Mycology Case Reports.
The man had no history of diabetes, HIV infection, renal or any other chronic disease.
The doctors first performed an x-ray, which showed nothing unusual. A CT scan of the neck taken afterward demonstrated the presence of a tracheal abscess. It was removed and analyzed to detect the infectious agent.
As they failed to identify the fungus, a sample was sent to a local WHO laboratory. DNA sequencing identified the pathogen as Chondrostereum purpureum, which typically affects plants.
A plant virus in Kolkata
C. purpureum is responsible for causing silver leaf disease in plants. It specifically affects plants that belong to the rose family, like fruit trees such as apples, pears, and cherries. The fungus, once it affects the plants, releases a toxin that eventually it causes their death that leads to a silver sheen on leaves.
The case is the first of a kind reported on the jump of fungus from the plants to human. Certain fungi can infect and sicken humans on a daily basis, although these infections are more likely among the people with a compromised immune system. This rare case turns out to be tricky as the patient had a perfectly healthy immune system.
The man claimed that he had never studied C. purpureum. However, he affirmed his close handling of mushrooms and plants during his research. Doctors speculate that the recurrent exposure to the decaying material might be the cause of this rare infection.
Pandora’s box for new infections
While this particular instance is likely a fluke, there have been shards of evidence of the animal or the human infection by phytopathogens recently.
Scientists attribute factors like the global warming, alteration of the ecosystem, international travel and commerce, and unplanned urbanization to the emergence of not only novel fungal infections but also the various zoonotic viral and the bacterial diseases.
“The worsening of the global warming and the other civilizational activities opens the Pandora’s Box for the newer fungal diseases,” says the study.
Few pathogenic fungi that are thermally intolerant may acquire the capacity to live at body temperatures. This hazard is heightened because certain fungi can profit from a natural selection-adaptation method that allows them to adapt to higher temperatures through thermal selection, according to the study.
Infection was cured
The good news is that the man is completely cured of the infection. The infection was treated with complete drainage of the pus followed by two months of anti-fungal medication. After two months of follow-up, the patient is absolutely fine and has shown no signs of the recurrence.
If the plant fungus can infrequently cross over and infect humans or other animals, the scientists believe this is a key finding with “major implications for the development of infectious illnesses.” They emphasize that much more research will be needed to investigate the various processes involved in these “cross-kingdom” diseases.