COVID-19’s dominance over health and medical news for nearly three years has, understandably, relegated other ailments and diseases to the background, although TV commercials and other advertising geared toward certain products and medicines have rightly continued to attract people afflicted with whatever the ailment, disease or condition those items purportedly treat.

But in an Oct. 25 article, the Wall Street Journal put an information spotlight on a situation that can be regarded as still being greatly misunderstood, as well as having been greatly ignored up to now, despite its potential seriousness, even potential deadliness.

It is a problem that not only the United States needs to worry about, but other countries as well.

That means people in this part of Pennsylvania are not immune from the responsibility of educating themselves about the problem, and physicians and other health care professionals need to be prepared to answer their patients’ questions, if and whenever answers are sought.

“Hard-to-treat, often deadly fungal infections on the rise” was the headline over the Oct. 25 Journal article.

According to the article, fungal infections kill more than 1.6 million people yearly.

That statistic was reported by the international research and fundraising organization Global Action for Fungal Infections. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that at least 7,000 people died in this country from fungal infections during 2021.

By comparison, in 1969 the CDC reported only 450 such deaths.

Regarding last year’s U.S. death statistic, the CDC said it believes current cases are likely undercounted because of misdiagnoses.

That seems like a reasonable possibility, but that possibility is very troubling.

The Journal article quoted Peter Pappas, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, regarding public awareness about the infections in question.

“Public awareness of fungal infections is abysmal,” Pappas said. “They think of toenail fungus or jock itch. They don’t understand that with some of these invasive fungal infections, if left untreated or even when they are treated, they can often lead to death.”

Based in part on the knowledge that more than 75,000 people are hospitalized in this country every year with fungal infections, the CDC in September urged patients and healthcare providers to consider fungi a potential culprit if an infection is not responding to treatments.

The World Health Organization hopes to attract funding for research and drug development in the year ahead.

According to researchers, fungi are adapting to rising temperatures in ways that might make them better suited to thriving in the human body. And, more people undergoing treatments that weaken their immune systems means potentially a larger population vulnerable to severe fungal infections.

Some of the fungi responsible for infections are inhaled by people virtually every day. One is the common mold that can grow on carpeting, pillows and in air conditioners.

Researchers are centered on vaccine development, but until that is achieved, public awareness and obvious preventative steps that can be pursued, especially in the home, are the best bets for not allowing the fungal death toll to increase significantly.

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