Medical matters – fungal infections

Ever think of yourself as an ecosystem? Think again.

Your body is the host for natural fungal ecosystems – both on your skin and inside your body. So wherever you go, you never need feel alone. Beats Facebook any day.

The natural fauna within our body form a group of commensal organisms whose presence is essential to our health.

We tend to be unaware of the presence of many of these organisms until we become unwell and their balance within our bodies becomes disturbed. This could happen, for example, when we take an antibiotic to combat a bacterial infection and we subsequently contract a condition such as thrush. Other fungal infections such as athletes foot or ringworm are usually contracted by contact with an infected person or domesticated animal.

Fungus Candida albicans - an important cause of mortality in immunocompromised patients.

Fungus Candida albicans – an important cause of mortality in immunocompromised patients. They’re growing on what’s called chocolate agar – nutrient agar mixed with sheep’s blood.

In recent years there has been an increase in the incidents of fungal infections and in the last 2 decades the number of patients with deadly fungal diseases has increased exponentially.

There are several reasons for this dramatic increase:

  • patients who are having transplant surgery are immuno-suppressed. That is the drugs which they are taking prevent their immune system from working well – in this immuno-suppressed condition fungal infections become very common.
  • patients being treated for cancer with chemotherapy are also immuno-suppressed.
  • there has been an increase in hospital patents who have catheters which go inside their veins and this provides ideal pathways for fungi to penetrate the major internal organs.
  •  the AIDS epidemic has caused a sharp rise in fungal infections because the HIV virus compromises the immune system and makes patients susceptible to fungal pathogens.

The infections which patients in these groups contact can be deadly. Candida albicans is the yeast which causes oral and vaginal thrush but in immuno-suppressed patients it can invade the kidney and the liver and the organism Cryptoccocus neoformans causes cryptococcal meningitis in AIDS patents.

It’s recently been suggested that Alzheimer’s disease may be related to fungal infections in the brain.

There’s a lot more to discover about the complex interactions between our fungal inhabitants and human health.

Fungal infection in bone marrow, in a patient with rheumatoid arthritis.

Fungal infection in bone marrow, in a patient with rheumatoid arthritis.

 

Practical Investigations – step-by-step protocols

We’ve put together step-by-step protocols for you to use for a practical investigation on this topic.

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