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First Documented Case of a Person Infected by a Vegetable Fungus


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Silver leaf disease is the scourge of a variety of plants, from pears to roses. Chondrostereum purpureum can infect leaves and branches if not treated promptly.

Apart from the occasional risk of losing the rose bush, fungal diseases have not yet been considered a problem for humans.

The researchers suggest this is the first reported case of its kind: A 61-year-old Indian mycologist apparently developed a rather severe silver leaf disease in his throat, a rare example of a pathogen that appears to have made a massive leap across entire kingdoms in tree of life.

A recently published case study describes a male patient from the eastern region of India presenting to a medical center with cough, hoarseness, fatigue and difficulty swallowing. A CT scan of his neck revealed a pus-filled abscess near his windpipe.

Lab tests did not detect any bacteria of concern, but a special mushroom staining technique revealed the presence of long, root-like filaments called hyphae.

Fungal diseases are not quite common in humans, although there are millions of known species, but only a few hundred of them are capable of causing us great harm.

Sometimes, especially in people with weakened immune systems, fungi that normally feed on rotting plants can infect deeper parts of our body.

However, this particular infection was unlike any of its predecessors, prompting medical professionals to seek advice from the WHO Fungal Research and Reference Center, which identified an unlikely suspect from its DNA.

Although he himself was a mycologist, the patient could not remember having worked with this particular species recently. During field work, he came into contact with decaying materials and other plant fungi, which may explain the source of his infection.

For pathogens of any kind to survive inside a host and start reproducing, they need the right tools. He needs not only a way to provide the right nutrients, but also some tricks to deal with an essentially hostile environment bent on tearing it apart with all sorts of chemical weapons and deadly agents.

Because of this, fungi that have adapted to thread their hyphae through leaves and stems rarely succeed in doing the same inside our flesh. The fact that the patient in this case study had a fully functioning immune system, with no signs of being on immunosuppressants or having HIV, diabetes, or any other chronic disease, makes it all the more puzzling.

The authors of the study wrote in their report that “human pathogens in the Kingdom and their potential plant reservoirs are important for the emergence of infectious diseases.”

While bacterial supervirus species and new viruses emerging in animal populations regularly capture our attention, we rarely think about plant diseases in our environment.

Although rare, the fact that it does happen makes it an area worth looking into. In particular, fungi pose a significant risk – the similarities in fungal and animal biochemistry make developing appropriate vaccines and treatments that can prevent or fight infections a real challenge.

Fortunately, in this case, regularly draining the ulcer for two months with an antifungal agent did the trick. After two years of follow-up, the patient was still doing well and had no signs of recurrent infection.

It is unlikely that we will ever know why such infections happened by chance at all, and it remains unknown if we will ever see such infections again.

This study was published in Case Reports of Medical Mycology.

Source: Science Alert

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