Large numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and more immunocompromised people in general are fueling a global spread of a different threatening microbe: invasive fungi.

Why it matters: These infections cause more than 1.6 million deaths worldwide every year, and the microorganisms responsible for them are starting to evade the small supply of antifungal drugs.

“Out of all the [hospitalized] people who have gotten bacterial infections, 5% will die from those infections. And that’s a lot. … When it comes to life-threatening fungal infections, 50% of those patients will die from that infection. And that message really isn’t being told.”

— Ciara Kennedy, former president and CEO, Amplyx Pharmaceuticals

Background: Out of the 6 million species of fungi, some hold a positive benefit for humans, ranging from beer-making yeast to biotech ingredients to our gut microbiome.

  • Some only pose mild harm to humans, such as ringworm, and most cannot thrive in human body temperature.
  • But the newest emerging microbe threat is the growing number of invasive fungi that normally attack a large number of immunosuppressed people, like COVID-19 patients in India, but can sometimes infect healthy people as well.
  • Exact numbers of fungal infections are unknown, as they are “often underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed,” says Tom Chiller, chief of the CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch.

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