Photo credit: Nephron via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY
As climate change heats up, regions previously too cold for insects like mosquitoes and ticks suddenly become viable stomping grounds. And as insect populations expand into new territory, so too do the diseases they carry -- this occurrence is well known. But rising temperatures may also explain why we're seeing a deadly fungus only known to be a problem in the equatorial tropics begin to afflict the Pacific Northwest. Over the last few years, hundreds of people have fallen victim to the fungus, and a handful have been killed.
The video below documents the case of how a resident of Vancouver, Canada, was afflicted with cryptococcus gattii, a fungus that can infect the human brain stem.
Mother Jones' Blue Marble does the exposition:
When Trudy Rosler first got sick after a visit to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, doctors were stumped. Eventually they discovered that she had fungus growing in her brain stem--one that was previously only known to exist in the tropics. Researchers say that subtle changes in climate over the last 40 years may be the reason it's infecting people much farther north.The researcher featured in the special notes that the temperatures in the region where the victim lived had risen 1-2°C over the last few decades -- and they expect the rise in temperature made the region more hospitable to the fungus.
Some scientists now believe that cryptococcus had indeed already been endemic to the area, but that it isn't a problem in low concentrations. When climate change caused the region to warm up, the cryptococcus began emerging in tropics-like concentrations, allowing the fungus to infect people's brains. It has already resulted in a handful of deaths in the Pacific Northwest.
As if we needed another horrifying impact of climate change to cope with, chalk up the possible rise of a brain-infecting killer fungus.
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