New killer fungus detected in soil and air in Western Cape
Disease expert Ilan Schwartz says it kills half the people infected
A mysterious new fungus, widespread in the Western Cape, kills half the people it infects.
The fungus, Emergomyces africanus, was detected in soil samples at 11 locations as far apart as Simon’s Town, Malmesbury and Kleinmond.
It was also found in 10% of air samples collected over 50 weeks on a rooftop in Bellville, in Cape Town’s northern suburbs.
Infectious diseases expert Ilan Schwartz, from the University of Manitoba in Canada, has just published two papers on the fungus, which was identified only in 2013.Writing in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, he said Emergomyces africanus was already recognised as the cause of the most frequently diagnosed dimorphic fungal infection in South Africa. Dimorphic fungi can exist in the form of moulds and filaments, and as yeast.
Most cases were in the Western Cape, but they were also reported in five other provinces and Lesotho. The fungus posed a particular threat to immunocompromised patients, particularly those with HIV.
“In Cape Town, a clinical and laboratory surveillance study at public hospitals over a 15-month period identified 14 cases of culture-proven emergomycosis,” Schwartz wrote.
“[This] is an opportunistic infection of immunocompromised hosts. One patient was a kidney transplant recipient and the remainder [of cases] have occurred in patients with advanced HIV infection.
“Patients most commonly present with widespread skin lesions and pulmonary disease. The reported case-fatality ratio is 50%.”
Working with an international team, including scientists from the universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, Schwartz tested 60 soil samples, mostly from the Western Cape, and 18 were found to be positive.