A 61-year-old man, who worked as a plant mycologist, became infected with purple weevil (Chondrosterium purple), which causes the so-called silver leaf disease in plants, after which the infected plant withers and may even die. It was reported by the British The Telegraph.
The man, whose name has not been released by the media, came to a hospital in Kolkata after suffering from cough, fatigue, swallowing problems and a hoarse voice for three months. Examination revealed that he had a paratracheal abscess in his throat. In the pus sample, the tests showed the presence of the purple weevil. The man most likely became infected because of his mushroom research, during which he comes into contact with rotting plants and fungi for long periods of time.
The infected person fully recovered after two months of administration of fungicidal medication.
A dangerous fungus is spreading through hospitals in the US. It colonizes the host
However, the Telegraph adds that the case has alarmed public health experts as it was not previously thought that fungal spores from plants could infect humans.
There are millions of fungal infections, scientists have so far been able to identify around 150,000. And only a few – such as the yeast Cryptococcus or the fungus Aspergillus – can survive in the human body.
“There are literally hundreds of millions of species of fungi, and only a fraction can cause infection in humans, but we’re starting to see this strange phenomenon where fungi that were not known to cause infection in humans are now causing infection,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, president of the American Scientific by One Health Trust. “There are naturally concerns about where the next pandemic might come from, and whether it might be caused by a fungal pathogen. But, fortunately, there is no effective human-to-human transmission yet,” he added.
Nature imitates art
The case from India came at a time when the serial adaptation of the highly successful game series The Last of Us raised public awareness of fungal diseases. The post-apocalyptic story of the game, or series, is inspired by the real-life parasitic bacterium Cordyceps, which attacks ants, essentially turning them into zombies. In the sense that he gradually controls the ant’s body from the inside until he leads it to an ideally warm and bright place where it can reproduce in peace. The ant’s now-dead exoskeleton “shoots” millions of spores, so in theory cordyceps can wipe out an entire ant colony.
Years ago, naturalist Sir David Attenborough was one of the first to focus on the cordyceps bacterium in the BBC documentary series Miraculous Planet, in which he showed South American bull ants that had been attacked by cordyceps. “There are thousands of different types of cordyceps fungus, each specializing in one particular species of ant,” commented Attenborough.
Although people tend to liken various fungal diseases to the mushroom from Last of Us, we really don’t have to worry about a fungus turning us into zombies like ants. The cordyceps mushroom does not support aggressive behavior in ants, and most importantly, the ant’s nervous system is incomparably simpler than the human nervous system. Such an ability would take an incredibly long time for mushrooms to develop, and given the abundance of more suitable hosts, cordyceps certainly has no reason to do so.
Leave a Reply