‘This Is the Beginning’: New Study Warns Climate Crisis May Have Been Pivotal in Rise of Drug-Resistant Superbug

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

A new analysis warns that “global warming may have played a pivotal role” in the recent rise of a multidrug-resistant fungal superbug, sparking questions and concerns about the emerging public health threats of the human-caused climate crisis.

Reporting on the research Tuesday, CNN outlined the history of Candida auris:

Until recently, scientists considered it a mystery how C. auris popped up in more than 30 countries around the globe a decade after it was first discovered in 2009. It emerged simultaneously on three continents—in India, Venezuela, and South Africa—between 2012 and 2015, each strain being genetically distinct.

The study—published Tuesday in mBio, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology—argues that Candida auris “may be the first example of a new fungal disease emerging from climate change.”

“The argument that we are making based on comparison to other close relative fungi is that as the climate has gotten warmer, some of these organisms, including Candida auris, have adapted to the higher temperature, and as they adapt, they break through human’s protective temperatures,” lead author Arturo Casadevall, chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a statement.

Fungal diseases are relatively uncommon in humans because of body temperature—but if they adapt to rising temperatures, and aren’t easily treatable with medications, they could increasingly endanger human health on a global scale. Casadevall warned that while C. auris may be the first fungal disease whose emergence scientists have tied to rising temperatures, it potentially won’t be the last.

“Global warming may lead to new fungal diseases that we don’t even know about right now,” he said. “What this study suggests is this is the beginning of fungi adapting to higher temperatures, and we are going to have more and more problems as the century goes on.”

Stat News published a piece Tuesday that mentions the new study but also addresses a series of pressing questions about the emerging superbug with help from experts who include Tom Chiller, chief of mycotic diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Tejas Bouklas, an assistant professor in the department of biomedical sciences at Long Island University.

Among those questions is: “Could C. auris help other fungi adapt to be bigger threats to humans?”

That’s a question Bouklas is wondering about. “The more ubiquitous it becomes, the more problematic. Because now it could potentially transmit DNA to other Candida species. And maybe even bacteria,” she said.

That idea is not far-fetched. Fungi can mate sexually, Chiller pointed out, allowing them to swap large amounts of DNA.

In light of the potential impacts of the climate crisis on public health highlighted in the study, Casadevall charged in his statement that “we need to make investments in better surveillance of fungal diseases.”

“We are pretty good at surveilling influenza and diseases that cause diarrhea or are contagious, but fungal diseases are not usually contagious and therefore nobody has really bothered to document them well,” he said. “If more fungi were to cross over, you really wouldn’t know until somebody started reporting them in the literature.”

Chiller, in his interview with Stat News, agreed that more research on the superbug is vital to protecting the public.

Understanding C. auris‘s backstory is crucial, Chiller said, because “these things are going to continue to emerge. And understanding how they emerge and where they emerge might lead us to prevention strategies or reactive strategies or preparation strategies for the next big thing.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

21 comments

  1. Ignacio

    We can ignore microorganisms at our own peril. Apply this story to the exchange between Keen and Nordhaus on how economists estimate the impact of climate change on the global economy and you can add another instance, amongst several more, of tipping points where unexpected outcomes of climate change kill Nordhaus’ models.

    Reply
    1. Ignacio

      On the brigth side the season for flu and other respiratory pathogens that depend on low temperatures for spreading migth become shorter!

      Reply
      1. Susan the other`

        And not just contradictory, but also complex. If we are dealing with a fungus (C. auris) shouldn’t more sunshine be an antidote to some extent? UV rays especially. The new epidemiology of climate change is going to be very complex. Once again, I think we need to look at increased cloud cover. I’m pretty sure I’m not crazy and I have clearly noticed, especially obvious over the last 3 years, many fewer “bluebird” days. We used to get them regularly. Blue skies, very low humidity. Etc.

        Reply
  2. DJG

    An observation midstory worth repeating: Because of our body temperature, human beings have a kind of resistance to certain pathogens that can’t survive the heat. But if they have adapted to the heat, then the game of predator and prey changes. And we are talking a matter of one or two degrees Fahrenheit here, not differences that are bigger. In other words, warming that has already happened, not warming in the future.

    Please note: Those of you “skeptical” of either Darwinian evolution or human-induced climate disruption. Here’s what happens as the “skeptics” dither. This is evolution in action in real time that you can watch. This is what happens as the business and consumer culture of the U.S. kinda hope the problem will go away.

    Reply
    1. Divadab

      I look at the climate change/evolution/science “skeptics” simply as evolutionary dead ends. Sort of like the giant obesities waddling down the snack food aisle at Walmart. I don’t even feel bad for them as they are the authors of their own extinction. Self-selection into the dead end.

      Anyway nature is cyclical- an overpopulation is inevitably followed by a crash – and of the four horsemen a plague of fungus is imho more likely than nuclear war to cull the herd.

      Too bad so sad life goes on. With or without us.

      Reply
      1. turtle

        It only we could take comfort in the idea that the skeptics’ skepticism would only contribute toward their own extinction. Alas, that’s not the case at all. Their skepticism helps take us and many other species closer to, and in some cases past, extinction. This is a severe miscalculation on the part of those promoting skepticism for their own gain.

        Reply
    2. Jeremy Grimm

      Fungi are a very ancient kingdom which has survived many past climates and changes of climate. I am skeptical that Climate Chaos can be blamed for other than providing conditions where the drug resistant C. auris could thrive. I suspect the capacity to survive many climate conditions remains in the genetic catalog of many fungi and bacteria just waiting for reactivation. I wasn’t aware of the mammalian “thermal restriction zone” protecting us from fungal diseases: “Mammalian resistance to invasive fungal diseases is proposed to result from a combination of high basal temperatures, which create a thermal restriction zone, and advanced host defense mechanisms…”
      Learning of this zone makes me wonder just how effective the antifungal treatments were to begin with and regardless I am not willing to let Agribusiness off the hook for their wanton use of antifungal agents and antibiotics.

      As the climate changes many new strains of bacteria and fungi will show up. These are among the most adaptive lifeforms on our planet. There will be many dead things around for the bacteria and fungi to work on and we will need their help in dealing with this vast rubble of dying and dead life. I suspect the climate will transition through several states before finally settling at in a new relatively stable climate zone. Our ancestors will see many new strains of bacteria and fungi as the climate dithers and chatters to its new stable climate zone several degrees warmer than our present climate. Now might be a good time to dump some money on basic research to learn about the inner workings of the bacteria and fungi, and insects, and plants too. I believe the current shotgun methods of searching for new drugs and new antibiotic agents has devolved into wild shots into a very large darkness.

      Reply
  3. KLG

    And a primary reason fungi are difficult to treat with drugs is that we are their close cousins at the molecular and cellular levels. Evolution in action, again. Drugs that are toxic to a bug such as Candida are also toxic to us, sometimes very toxic, and we lack the cell wall that can (somewhat) protect the fungus from the drug. This is potentially as bad as our worst nightmare of a completely drug resistant bacterial pathogen…

    Reply
  4. bruce

    Gaia is awakening to the hazard we present to her, and she is executing countermeasures to defend herself, and yes, this is just the beginning, and it’s all good.

    Reply
  5. rc

    Deadly viruses and bacteria are a real threat to humanity, but color me skeptical that climate change or man made climate change is the cause. Are climate change and the Russians causing all of the world’s problems?

    Humans produce about 5% of CO2 in the atmosphere. Even if CO2 is as big a contributor as some claim, then we have very little capability to change it. Even if we want to change it, China and India are going to be the primary sources of CO2–look at the countries that send plastics to the oceans where 90% comes from Asia. I am all for high tariffs based on environmental responsibility and reducing length of supply chains. Produce goods here and regulate manufacturing smartly. Why can’t we properly focus on particulates, acid rain sources, CFC’s and other air pollution we know categorically harm humanity and the environment? Pharmaceuticals and other water pollutants? Processed foods…there are so many things poisoning us and climate change seems to sucking the air out of the room.

    Climate change science is starting to look like more of a hoax foisted on us by politicians. We are coming out of a mini ice age and off a multi-million year low in historical CO2 PPM in the atmosphere. Recent research by climate scientists now assert that climate models have underestimated the importance of galactic cosmic radiation and its effects on cloud formation arguing that this factor is off by an order of magnitude and CO2 contribution is wildly overstated.

    Reply
    1. pretzelattack

      we can stop using fossil fuels, that is doable. the science behind climate change looks increasingly credible. cite the research you claim calls it into question, surely not the old work by richard lindzen?

      Reply
  6. rc

    Deadly viruses, fungi and bacteria are a real threat to humanity, but color me skeptical that climate change or man made climate change is the cause. Are climate change and the Russians causing all of the world’s problems?

    Humans produce about 5% of CO2 in the atmosphere. Even if CO2 is as big a contributor as some claim, then we have very little capability to change it. Even if we want to change it, China and India are going to be the primary sources of CO2–look at the countries that send plastics to the oceans where 90% comes from Asia. I am all for high tariffs based on environmental responsibility and reducing length of supply chains. Produce goods here and regulate manufacturing smartly. Why can’t we properly focus on particulates, acid rain sources, CFC’s and other air pollution we know categorically harm humanity and the environment? Pharmaceuticals and other water pollutants? Processed foods…there are so many things poisoning us and climate change seems to sucking the air out of the room.

    Climate change science is starting to look like more of a hoax foisted on us by politicians. We are coming out of a mini ice age and off a multi-million year low in historical CO2 PPM in the atmosphere. Recent research by climate scientists now assert that climate models have underestimated the importance of galactic cosmic radiation and its effects on cloud formation arguing that this factor is off by an order of magnitude and CO2 contribution is wildly overstated.

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      Can you provide any sources with information that supports your assertion re “galactic radiation”? If politicians are foisting a climate change scare upon us, why are they now mostly ignoring it?

      Reply
    2. turtle

      You sound like either a paid “skeptic” or someone brainwashed by them. Blatantly anti-scientific posts that also use fallacious reasoning, like yours, shouldn’t be allowed to stay posted on this site.

      Reply
  7. Jeremy Grimm

    The site containing the paper referenced in this post has a lot of other interesting publications. This paper I found on that site might be especialing interesting to those who intend to survive the Jackpot as hunter-gathers:
    “Chronic Wasting Disease in Cervids: Implications for PrionTransmission to Humans and Other Animal Species”
    [https://mbio.asm.org/content/mbio/10/4/e01091-19.full.pdf]
    “Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a prion-related transmissible spongi-form encephalopathy of cervids, including deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose.CWD has been confirmed in at least 26 U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, SouthKorea, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, with a notable increase in the past 5 years.”
    “Available data indicate that the incidence of CWD in cervids is increasing and that the potential exists for transmission to humans and subsequent human disease”
    “However, prions can be found in many diverse extraneural tissues, including muscle, blood, and lymphoidorgans” …
    “These data suggest that prions found in peripheral tissues may hold more zoonotic potential than prions found in neural tissue”

    [I wasn’t sure exactly what zoonotic meant — “Pertaining to a zoonosis: a disease that can be transmitted from animals to people or, more specifically, a disease that normally exists in animals but that can infect humans.”]

    Reply
  8. Francesco

    … “global warming may have played a pivotal role” … I’m skeptical but this doesn’t matter, what matters is that this not even a starting point for a scientific approach. Look at another at least as convincing explanation. We’re almost 8 billions and every two large cities around the globe are connected so that it will take less than 48 hours to reach any point from any other. People move, things move, a lot of them, faster and faster. Viruses, bacterias and fungi can spread out like never before. Climate change cannot be the scapegoat for everything unpleasant that is happening and will happen.

    Reply
  9. Shane

    I think the link between this new fungal pathogen and climate change is pretty specious. If that was the case then it should already have been established in the warmer regions of the world if a degree of average temperature makes that much difference. Far more likely is that we now have the biotechnology tools to identify this pathogen (and the test is what spread across the world) while the pathogen itself has been around basically forever and we just didnt notice it. As far as I can tell the patients themselves probably have compromised immune systems, quite likely since we don’t understand how the immune system deals with fungal pathogens very well. Since pathogenic fungi are rare we don’t have any really effective broad spectrum anti-fungal medicines, so the rare cases of people getting persistent C. auris infections turn tragic as doctors struggle to do anything about it. Climate change is real and important but this trend of linking it to every scary thing possible is probably counterproductive in the medium to long term.

    Reply
    1. pretzelattack

      hmm two more posts claiming the scientists don’t know what they’re talking about, one referencing a “degree of average warming” as if climate change had uniform effects all over the world. color me skeptical about these posts.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *