If you’ve been following this blog or my Twitter for a while, you would have noticed a definite and recurrent theme of concern about antibiotic resistance. Because of our continued and occasionally thoughtless use of antibiotics with disregard for future consequences, we may find ourselves once again facing an antibiotic-less world where simple infections or minor surgery could kill.
But antibiotics aren’t where these “resistance wars” stop. Fungicide resistance also poses a major health threat.
While agriculturists have over 300 different fungicides, there are only 4 fungicides available for use on human fungalnfections. The problem is that those 4 are also used on gardens because they’re extremely effective. And when fungi are continually exposed to those chemicals, those that have a mutation that prevents the fungicide from acting quickly take over the population and the fungicide becomes useless.
It also makes sense that if a person has had a fungal infection in the past, and taken an anti-fungal medication to treat it, that that person may not respond to a second course in the case of a later infection. But that’s exactly what’s happening.
The issue is that the fungi are largely resistant before infecting the individual! Because agriculture is using the some of the same fungicides, the fungi are becoming resistant well before infecting humans. That also means that they are surviving in greater number outside in garden beds and crops and are then more widespread and capable of inflicting far greater danger.
And while medical doctors are realising the dangers of over-prescribing medications that species can develop resistance to, there is little communication between medical doctors and agricultural scientists. The result is that fungi are developing dangerous resistance to treatments and death rates and health care costs are rising (the US alone spent $7.2 billion on fungal-related infections in 2017, after rising every year).
And the people who are most affected are those with compromised immune systems. As a result, individuals are starting to urge hospitals to avoid planting decorative garden beds that could lead to the spread of fungal infections and warning immuno-compromised patients to avoid planting their own gardens for risk of deadly infection.
What makes it even more dangerous is that so few people know about the dangers or rising prevalence of fungal infections. Worldwide agricultural sectors are slowly beginning to try and cap the widespread usage of fungicides that are also used on people, but we certainly have a long way to go. And right now it is important to raise awareness and bring fungicide resistance to the headlines alongside antibiotic resistance.
If you’re interested in reading more, check out this article, When Tulips Kill.