Airborne Fungus and Parasite Poop, Oh My!

It really wouldn’t be my blog with a good fungus or poop reference every now and then, so here’s the latest news from around the country about a couple of the things we try not to think about all that often…but that can have a pretty big impact on our health.

In the northwest United States an airborne fungus called Cryptococcus gattii has been spreading, and so far it’s caused several deaths in healthy individuals. Normally this fungus affects HIV-infected patients whose immune systems are compromised, but this new C. gattii strain is causing illness and even death in people who aren’t even sick to begin with…scary stuff!

The strain is affecting humans as well as animals—with a death rate of 25% compared to the typical 8.7% seen in previous strains—and scientists are working hard to determine just where this virulent strain originated by studying gene samples collected from infected patients.

In another news story, Chagas disease is making headlines. Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which lives in the gut of the reduviid bug. Yuck, right? Even worse, the reduviid bug is also called the “kissing bug” because it crawls on the lips of people who are sleeping, attracted by exhaled carbon dioxide. And what does it do when it’s there? It numbs and bites your skin, drinking its fill of blood and then defecating on the wound, which in turn transmits the parasite to you, the human host. Double yuck!!

While Chagas is seen mostly in poorly developed areas of the world like South and Central America, its prevalence is increasing in the U.S.—alarming news, if you ask me. And while the acute form of Chagas can be treated effectively by doctors, once it develops into a chronic condition there is no cure, and complications can include heart disease and intestinal malformation…Yikes!

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