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Fungal Lung Disease Makes World’s Deadliest Bacteria Even Worse

Jun 09, 2023Jun 09, 2023

Aspergillosis lung infection caused by Aspergillus, vector outline diagram.Irritated airway, excess ... [+] mucus and damaged cilia caused by common mold fungus spores.Microbiological danger for human health.

In Tanzania, researchers are unlocking the mysteries of a mold (fungus) that infects patients who have already contracted the bacterial disease tuberculosis.

According to World Health Organization statistics, tuberculosis is the leading cause of death globally from infectious disease, with over a quarter of TB deaths occurring in Africa.

Fungal lung disease, particularly chronic pulmonary aspergillosis is significantly under-diagnosed, under-treated and a common cause of death in Africa: a 2022 study found the Aspergillosis mold develops in the lesions caused by TB, worsening them and resulting in a deteriorating clinical situation.

Dr Martha F. Mushi, a lecturer consultant medical mycologist, at the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences (CUHAS) and Bugando Medical Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania, explaines that her research explores the prevalence, risk factors, and clinical outcomes of CPA among patients with smear-negative (lower bacterial load) TB, contributing to improved patient care in vulnerable populations.

"The fact that approximately 45% of clinically diagnosed pulmonary TB cases have negative-smear or PCR test results highlighted the need of this project," she says, adding that while CPA is documented as the major cause of smear negative TB, the mortality rate of untreated CPA is estimated at 75% to 80% over five years.

“Africa's capacity to diagnose lung fungal infection is still very low," she says, "This calls for the global attention in increasing awareness of fungal infection among clinicians and training of technical staff (radiology and clinical laboratory) on the WHO essential diagnostic tests, to attain the sustainable development goals.”

Mushi explained that the project is a result of collaboration with Prof David Denning, the founder and retired executive director of Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections (GAFFI), which partially funds and supports the project.

Dr Martha Mushi reading gram stain results all in in microbiology laboratory of CUHAS with taken on ... [+] 30th June 2023

Mushi grew up in in Kilimanjaro region Northeastern part of Tanzania.

"As a university student I was very much inspired by my microbiology professor, who interested me in this field that explores the intricate world of microorganisms," she says, adding that the neglect of mycology as a whole result in limited research funding, making it challenging to generate evidence-based data for teaching and to foster interest among junior researchers.

"Despite these obstacles, mycology plays a crucial role in understanding and addressing fungal infections, which have significant impacts on public health," she says.

According to Mushi, addressing public health issues requires more than just medical interventions.

"Scientists from the Global South understand the local healthcare systems, traditional healing practices, community dynamics, and social determinants of health," she says, "This understanding enables them to design interventions that are sensitive to cultural beliefs and practices, promote community engagement, and enhance the likelihood of successful implementation.

Mushi explains that scientists from the Global South can shed light on ethical dilemmas specific to their contexts and ensure that research is conducted in a way that respects the dignity, autonomy, and rights of individuals and communities.

"This not only enhances the relevance and applicability of the solutions but also promotes a sense of ownership and empowerment among the communities affected by the global challenges," she says.

Mwanza, Tanzania.

Another researcher from the region interested in tuberculosis is 20-year old Rutendo Kahari.

Kahari, from Zimbabwe, is already on a path to use viruses that infect bacteria to fight some of sub-Saharan Africa's deadliest infectious diseases.

The budding biomedical researcher interested in bacteriophages (viruses that whose hosts are bacteria) and genetic engineering as potential tools for fighting TB and other infectious diseases.

Recent studies have focused on phage-based treatments as a solution to treating multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. After hearing a podcast on bacteriophages, Kahari delved into how phages could potentially combat the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"I was intrigued by the idea of using viruses to control populations of pathogenic bacteria," she says.