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Doctors in India have recorded the first known case of a human becoming infected by a plant fungus that is usually found in trees.

Chondrostereum purpureum, which is more commonly known as silverleaf fungus, often affects species of roses and turns their leaves a silvery color before killing branches or even the whole plant.

However, it now appears that the fungus can also infect humans, after a 61-year-old man from eastern India was admitted to hospital with a range of symptoms that had been bothering him for three months, including fatigue, hoarseness, a cough, and difficulty swallowing.

After performing an X-ray of the patient’s chest, doctors failed to identify the issue, but a CT scan of the man’s neck revealed an abscess, which was tested and eventually identified as silverleaf fungus.

Chondrostereum purpureum typically spreads through spores that are released into the air, allowing it to infect nearby plants. It is not clear how the Indian man became infected with the fungus.

The patient was a plant mycologist, according to the case report, but he denied ever working with silverleaf fungus. However, he had worked with decaying materials, mushrooms, and other plant fungi in the course of his research.

Doctors completely drained the abscess and treated the infection with antifungal medication. The man has since been discharged from hospital, and there is no sign of recurrence, according to the researchers.

While the team believes that this particular case may have been caused by the patient working in close proximity to the fungus, they nevertheless raised concerns about the potential of the silverleaf fungus, as well as other strains, to cause illness in people.

“Among the millions of fungi present in the environment, only a few hundreds of fungi are able to infect humans and animals,” they explained in the report. “That animal and human diseases can be caused by plant pathogens is a new concept that raises serious questions regarding the propensity of such infection to occur in healthy as well as immunocompromised individuals.”

“If the fungi can escape the phagocytosis pathway and is able to evade the host immune system, then they can establish themselves as human pathogens,” the researchers warned, noting that multiple new pathogenic fungi and zoonotic viral and bacterial diseases have been discovered in the past several decades, presumably due to global warming, alteration of ecosystems, international travel, and unplanned urbanization.

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