Frightening new maps showcasing the rising number of four deadly fungal cases across the country which have begun to grow more and more as the climate warms up
Worrying maps showing how deadly fungal diseases are spreading across the country have been revealed, as the death of a young chef sparks concerns.
New images depicting a growing epidemic of four serious strains, which are infecting thousands of people now compared to the early 2000s, have shown where rising cases are in the US.
It comes after Michigan chef Ian Pritchard, 29, is one of the latest victims after his lungs were “ravaged” by blastomycosis – one of four worrying diseases – which is a microscopic yeast that spreads when people inhale its spores. The fungus is usually found lurking in rotting wood or soil in the upper Midwest, but it has begun to start to flourish on the East Coast as a result of the warming climate.
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In the west of the country, including California, more people are being struck down with Valley fever. Cases in California have tripled from 2014 to 2018 and from 2018 to 2022.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have ramped up warnings in the past few years about the fungal pathogens that can evade medicines. There have also been several alarms from the World Health Organization (WHO). Climate change coupled with international travel leads to more dangerous pathogens being spread.
In 2021, just under 7,200 deaths from fungal diseases were reported – up from 5,922 deaths in the previous year and 4,833 the year before that, MailOnline reports.
Ian Pritchard’s case of blastomycosis was one of the first reported in the US in 2024. Lorelei Walker, his cousin, revealed he was the second person in their family to die from the disease. She said: “Ian is the second in my family to succumb to this disease. Had I not gone through it with my husband I would have never known what this disease is and the damage it does – not only to the person fighting it but to the families and friends who are watching.”
People become ill from the fungus after it grows in the wet soil, leaves and rotting wood before being released into the air, which becomes embedded in tissue and causes infection. The fungus that causes blastomycosis, for instance, transforms itself into a type of yeast that replicates in the lungs and causes infection.
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Mrs Walker still remains unaware of how her husband Ira became infected back in June 2020. It happened at the height of the Covid pandemic when he also had an underlying kidney disease. Ira was rushed from his dialysis session in an ambulance to the hospital in June 2020 after weeks of labored breathing, fatigue, and muscle aches.
Ira was admitted to hospital after an X-ray revealed masses on his lungs which doctors believed to be pneumonia. Subsequent tests confirmed he had blastomycosis.
For one month, Ira was in the hospital while doctors surgically engineered an opening through his neck to his trachea, before later being moved to a specialist facility for a higher level of care.
Mrs Walker continued: “Instead of regaining his strength, he became weaker. Every time the hospital would call, there would be news of yet another setback. At the end of September, I received a call from his sister telling me he had made the decision to come home on hospice care. She placed the phone to his ear so I could talk with him to confirm. A few days later, I spoke with his case manager and made the arrangements for him to come home.”
It’s not known exactly how the changing environment will let the fungi thrive and adapt, but there is a concern that current treatments will end up failing and an escalating crisis will ensue.
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Annual figures show precipitation has risen by as much as 20 percent in some areas in the region since 1900. As a result, storms are becoming more intense and the Midwest has gotten warmer. Average winter temperatures in the US have climbed by nearly three degrees, and spring temperatures have risen by about two degrees.
Earlier this year, health officials in Vermont and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention combed insurance claims records to find cases of blastomycosis. They uncovered 114 residents who had the infection, with 30 having had one or more blastomycosis-related hospitalizations – four died from the infection.
In Massachusetts, Darcy Coderre, 60, became severely ill with what was originally thought to be pneumonia. She said: “My doctor was kind of shocked. He said he hadn’t seen a case of that in Massachusetts. We tried to figure out where I got it and we couldn’t figure it out. I garden, so we figured it could have been from the soil. I take walks, but I pretty much stay on trails.”
Another sinister fungus is on the rise, Candida auris, and is commonly associated with hospital settings where it can spread rapidly among residents of long-term care facilities or people with catheters, tracheostomies, or wound drains.
Tracking by the federal government shows about 60 infections in the US from 2013 through 2016, but there were more than 2,300 cases in 2022 alone.