Plant Fungus Infected a Human in First Reported Case of Its Kind

Disease caused by the silver leaf fungus affects a range of plants, including rhododendron, roses, and pears. If the fungus, Chondrostereum purpureum, invades the branches and leaves, it can be lethal unless treated promptly.

Although the disease has the potential to wipe out certain plants like rose bushes, it was never viewed as a human threat. That perspective changed this year. In an unprecedented case, a 61-year-old mycologist from India seems to have developed a severe form of the silver leaf disease in his throat.

This incident portrays a unique instance where a pathogen seemingly bridged vast evolutionary distances. The case, documented in June 2023, tells of an Indian male from the east who sought medical attention for symptoms like coughing, a raspy voice, fatigue, and challenges in swallowing.

A CT scan of his throat showcased an abscess filled with pus adjacent to his windpipe. While standard tests couldn’t pinpoint any alarming bacteria, a specialized staining method detected elongated, root-resembling structures named hyphae. It’s not rare for humans to suffer from fungal infections.

However, of the millions recognized, a mere few hundred actually pose a threat. Fungi causing conditions like ringworm, athlete’s foot, or thrush often thrive in our skin’s moist regions, causing discomfort.

In certain individuals, especially those with weakened immunity, fungi that typically feast on decomposing plants, like Aspergillus species, might attack our body’s deeper sections.

This specific infection didn’t resemble the usual suspects. Thus, the medical team reached out to a reference and research facility under the World Health Organization specializing in fungi.

This center pinpointed the culprit through its genetic material. Interestingly, despite being a fungi expert, the patient couldn’t remember interacting with this fungus recently.

His professional engagements with decomposing matter and plant fungi might hint at how he contracted the disease. For any pathogen to thrive and multiply in a host, it requires specific tools.

They need access to vital nutrients and strategies to endure an essentially adversarial setting, filled with potential threats like chemicals and destructive entities. So, it’s quite unusual for a fungus adapted to plant systems to flourish inside human tissues. Intriguingly, the patient demonstrated a robust immune response.

There were no signs of immune-suppressing medications, HIV, diabetes, or persistent ailments. This scenario raises eyebrows and concerns. While we often focus on superbugs and new viruses originating from animals, plant-related diseases tend to stay under the radar.

Despite its rarity, the incident underscores the necessity to be alert. Fungi, in particular, present a notable hazard. Designing efficient therapies and vaccines to prevent or treat such infections remains challenging due to the similarities between fungal and animal biochemistry.

In this situation, consistent draining of the affected area combined with a two-month course of a standard antifungal medication proved effective. Post-treatment, the patient remained in good health during two years of follow-ups, showing no recurrence.

It’s uncertain why this anomaly occurred, and it’s yet to be seen if similar cases will surface in the future.