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Climate change may have spawned a new killer, antibiotic-resistant bug

Climate change may have spawned a new killer, antibiotic-resistant bug
US health officials have been warning about new generations of fast-spreading, drug-resistant diseases proliferating thanks to climate change, and it appears they have identified the first candidate.

After first popping up in a Japanese woman’s ear in 2009, Candida auris, a type of yeast, has since become a global health threat, particularly for those with compromised immune systems. Genetically distinct versions of the fungus have sprung up simultaneously in India, South Africa and South America, perplexing researchers in the process. 

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“You gotta try to think, what could be the unifying cause here? These are different societies, different populations,” Arturo Casadevall, one of the authors of the new study, explained.

“But the one thing they have in common is that the world is getting warmer.”

Since its discovery a decade ago there have been 715 cases of C. auris infection in the US alone. Despite warnings it has spread to more than 30 countries, and quite possibly far more, given how hard it is to identify without specialized laboratory testing equipment. 

It is resistant to antifungal medication and can easily spread between patients, causing outbreaks in a relatively short amount of time. The fungus can cause infections in the bloodstream, heart and brain, with preliminary studies suggesting a mortality rate of between 30 and 60 percent.

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The researchers explain that fungal infections in humans –and mammals more broadly– are rare, given our advanced immune systems and higher body temperatures, which preclude most malicious fungi from causing us any harm. However, as average global temperatures have risen, C. auris has been able to adapt to warmer environments, providing it with a whole new breeding ground in the human population. 

Researchers caution, however, that climate change alone cannot explain the sudden emergence of such a lethal yeast and were careful to add other possible factors, such as the proliferation of antifungal medication use and the widespread use of fungicides on crops.

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