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Why Fungal Infections Making Some Americans Very Sick – Study Reveals

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Why do some Americans develop deadly fungal infections?

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs kill an estimated 35,000 Americans each year. These are bacteria that mutate so swiftly that current treatment methods are unable to eradicate them.

But the growth of dangerous drug-resistant bacterial infections isn’t the only problem. We must also be concerned about drug-resistant fungal diseases.

The deadly, drug-resistant fungus candidiasis is expanding worldwide and posing “urgent threats,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to a new study from the University of Birmingham and the National Institutes of Health, patients taking antibiotics in hospitals are more prone to get fungal infections due to disruption of the immune system in the stomach.

The researchers believe that the use of immunostimulants in conjunction with antibiotics could lessen the health risks associated with these complex infections.

The potentially fatal fungal infection Invasive candidiasis is a serious consequence for hospitalized patients who are given antibiotics to combat sepsis and other bacterial infections that can swiftly spread across hospitals (such as C. diff). Fungal infections are more difficult to treat than bacterial infections, yet the causes of fungal infections are poorly known.

A team from the University’s Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy revealed, in collaboration with researchers from the National Institutes of Health, that antibiotics affect the immune system in the intestines, implying that fungal infections were poorly controlled in that location. Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that when fungal infections grew, gut bacteria were able to escape as well, increasing the chance of bacterial infection.

The study, which was published in Cell Host and Microbe, shows the promise for immune-boosting drugs, but the authors also point out that antibiotics can have side effects that influence how we fight infection and disease. This emphasizes the significance of prudent antibiotic stewardship.

“We knew that antibiotics make fungal infections worse, but the discovery that bacterial co-infections can also develop through these interactions in the gut was surprising,” explains lead author Dr. Rebecca Drummond.

“These factors can add up to a complicated clinical situation – and by understanding these underlying causes, doctors will be better able to treat these patients effectively.”

In the study, the team used mice that had been given a broad-spectrum antibiotic cocktail and then infected these mice with Candida albicans, the most common fungus that causes invasive candidiasis in humans. Although infected mice died more frequently, they discovered that this was due to infection in the colon rather than the kidneys or other organs.

In a further phase, the researchers identified which immune system components were missing from the stomach following antibiotic treatment, and then employed immune-boosting medicines identical to those used in people to replace them in the mice. They discovered that taking this method reduced the severity of the fungal infection.

The researchers followed up on the experiment by looking at hospital records, where they discovered that similar co-infections can arise in humans after antibiotic treatment.

“These findings demonstrate the possible consequences of using antibiotics in patients who are at risk of developing fungal infections,” adds the lead author. “If we limit or change how we prescribe antibiotics we can help reduce the number of people who become very ill from these additional infections – as well as tackling the huge and growing problem of antibiotic resistance.”

Image Credit: Getty

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