11. SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES

Deadly Fungi, Toxic Tides, and Wildfire Smoke – UC Berkeley Public Health

Deadly Fungi, Toxic Tides, and Wildfire Smoke – UC Berkeley Public Health
Written by ZJbTFBGJ2T

Deadly Fungi, Toxic Tides, and Wildfire Smoke – UC Berkeley Public …  UC Berkeley School of Public Health

Deadly Fungi, Toxic Tides, and Wildfire Smoke – UC Berkeley Public Health

Introduction

Since fungus-riddled zombies unleashed the apocalypse, Justin Remais has been in high demand.

The calls started coming in January 2023, as much of the U.S. became obsessed with the HBO hit series The Last of Us, the story of a terrifying fungus that takes over the brains of its human hosts and turns them into killing machines. In the show, Cordyceps, a parasitic fungus that in reality is limited to insects, adapts to a warming planet and becomes comfortable in humans, with terrifying and tragic results for our species.

“Could this really happen?” reporters asked Dr. Remais, a Berkeley Public Health professor and world expert on the impact of climate change on infectious diseases.

“No. Not likely,” he would say.

But the troubling bit of truth that Remais knows is this: Certain fungal pathogens are indeed climate sensitive. And with the growth of antifungal drug resistance, along with a warming world, their public health significance has increased.

“In the show, climate change has led to the emergence of a new fungal pathogen that sweeps the globe,” said Remais. “In the real world, fungal pathogens are indeed becoming increasingly common and resistant to treatment, and we are only beginning to understand how climate change is contributing to these changes.”

Valley fever and the growing risk of fungal infections

“Studying pathogenic fungi in California was not part of my research plans,” said Remais, who has spent many years working on globally neglected pathogens and the diseases they cause amongst the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. “But we became increasingly aware that there were neglected environmental pathogens right in our own backyard. We were seeing them move outside of their historic ranges, and we saw signs of a rapidly growing threat to public health.”

Every year, fungal infections affect more than 1 billion people and kill an estimated 1.6 million around the world. In the U.S., millions of people are infected by pathogenic fungi, leading to an estimated $7.2 billion in economic losses each year.

Researchers know that fungal diseases respond to shifts in weather and climate. Some fungal pathogens infect people during natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes, often entering through open wounds. Others—such as Histoplasma and Aspergillus—live in the environment and infect people when they inhale fungal spores or come into contact with fungal filaments called hyphae. Climate influences where and how fast these pathogens grow and disperse.

Valley fever—or coccidioidomycosis—is a case in point. The illness is contracted by inhaling spores of Coccidioides, a pathogenic fungus that grows in soil. When the weather is hot and dry, the fungus develops spores that can become airborne. People who work closely with soil—such as agricultural and construction workers—tend to have the highest exposures, and if infected they can experience cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, night sweats, and joint pain, among other symptoms. Although most cases clear up on their own within a few weeks to months, roughly 5% to 10% of people who get it will develop serious or long-term disease, especially when the pathogen spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body such as the brain.

Until recently, Valley fever was limited to the arid deserts in the southwestern United States. But the warming climate has enabled the Coccidioides fungus to survive across a wider area, especially in California, where it is moving north and towards the coast.

“California has seen a dramatic increase—over 800% in Valley fever from 2014 until now,” said Jennifer Head—a former assistant researcher in the division of Environmental Health Sciences. Head, who was recently appointed as assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, studies the spread of the disease. In a study published in 2022, Dr. Head found that cycles of multi-year drought, followed by a wet winter, amplified transmission of the Coccidioides fungus. In wetter, coastal counties the disease was highly sensitive to temperature fluctuations, and recent warmer summers have allowed the disease to take hold in areas from San Luis Obispo to Monterey.

Head also found some significant increases in Valley fever in highly endemic areas that had experienced particularly large wildfires. Dr. Head hypothesized that fires can deplete vegetation, making the soil more susceptible to wind erosion.

The team, working with the California Department of Public Health, also found that the fungal spores are more likely to be found in borrows where rodents were actively present, compared to surface soils or burrows where rodents were absent. “Coccidioides is known to infect small mammals,” Dr. Head said

SDGs, Targets, and Indicators

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being

  • Target 3.9: By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination.
  • Indicator: Number of deaths and illnesses caused by fungal infections and other climate-sensitive diseases.

SDG 13: Climate Action

  • Target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
  • Target 13.3: Improve education, awareness-raising, and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning.
  • Indicator: Number of research projects and initiatives focused on understanding the impact of climate change on fungal diseases and developing strategies to mitigate their effects.

SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

  • Target 10.2: By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic, and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status.
  • Indicator: Identification of disparities in fungal disease incidence and severity across vulnerable populations.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

  • Target 11.5: By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.
  • Indicator: Number of people affected by fungal infections and other climate-sensitive diseases in urban areas.

SDG 15: Life on Land

  • Target 15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains, and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.
  • Indicator: Changes in the distribution and prevalence of fungal pathogens in different ecosystems due to climate change.

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

  • Target 17.16: Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology, and financial resources.
  • Indicator: Number of collaborations and partnerships between research institutions, public health agencies, and community groups to address the health risks of climate change and develop mitigation strategies.

Table: SDGs, Targets, and Indicators

SDGs Targets Indicators
SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being Target 3.9: By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination. Number of deaths and illnesses caused by fungal infections and other climate-sensitive diseases.
SDG 13: Climate Action Target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries. Number of research projects and initiatives focused on understanding the impact of climate change on fungal diseases and developing strategies to mitigate their effects.
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities Target 10.2: By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic, and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status. Identification of disparities in fungal disease incidence and severity across vulnerable populations.
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities Target 11.5: By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations. Number of people affected by fungal infections and other climate-sensitive diseases in urban areas.
SDG 15: Life on Land Target 15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains, and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements. Changes in the distribution and prevalence of fungal pathogens in different ecosystems due to climate change.
SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals Target 17.16: Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology, and financial resources. Number of collaborations and partnerships between research institutions, public health agencies, and community groups to address the health risks of climate change and develop mitigation strategies.

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Source: publichealth.berkeley.edu

 

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