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Climate fungus ate my brain

15 Feb 2023 | News Roundup

Apparently fungus movies are “in” nowadays, from “The Spore” to “Annihilation” to the very trendy “The Last of Us.” Maybe because fungal infections are supposedly on the rise. And you know it means news outlets will start tottering around moaning that “Climate change also threatens to make several infection-causing fungi more widespread”. The specific mechanism is apparently that “The fungus that causes Valley fever thrives in hot, dry soil, and the fungus that causes an illness called histoplasmosis prefers high humidity.” And because climate change causes it to be both dry and humid, well, say goodbye to your brain.

Scientists say, obviously. As in:

“Valley fever, historically found only in the Southwest, is spreading. It can have devastating consequences. The fungus that causes Valley fever is found in hot, dry environments. As the climate warms, scientists project its range will expand.”

Not “might expand”. Will expand. And NBC offers a very scary set of maps showing the stuff spreading like a fungus in a big orange stain. Although to get all nit-picky, only the first map is based on data. The other three show what will happen in 2035, 2065 and 2095 unless, a key consideration, it doesn’t because it’s just a computer model. Though “Scientists say the disease is likely to become endemic across the West due to climate change.”

Not “some scientists” or “one speculative paper by four people looking for something dramatic” so they will not succumb to the fungus of “publish or perish” that has spread with devastating effect through academia. Though in fact:

“One study in the journal GeoHealth projected that, due to climate change, the range of Valley fever could spread east, through the Great Plains and north, to the Canadian border, before the end of the century.”

The way to read these kinds of sentences, as an alert CDN reader noted, is to mentally add “or not” to the end, which will reveal that they really say nothing at all. Valley fever could spread all the way to Canada. Or not. Taking another example, when a paper in PLOS Pathogens says:

“Climate change, defined by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’ may create environmental pressures that result in new diseases caused by fungi.”

And so we add: or it may not. But had the authors said as much, or as little, they’d never have gotten published. Whereas they did after adding a chilling “Climate change produces a confluence of factors that can act together to drive the emergence of new pathogens”.

Or perhaps not. Oh, and we bring up that specific paper here because a Google search of “histoplasmosis and climate change” returned it along with nearly 700,000 other hits, and indeed it does at one point say “Various other soil-borne fungal pathogens have been speculated to have increased in frequency or range due to climate-induced disruptions, including Talaromyces marneffei, Blastomyces, Histoplasma, and Paracoccidioides.” Speculated, no less.

And another thing. At the moment, NBC says, “97% of all U.S. cases of Valley fever are reported in Arizona and California, according to the California Department of Public Health.” So um we just made it all up to yell at you.

Also, to quibble, or rather to let that story quibble with itself:

“Around 20,000 cases of Valley fever were reported in 2019, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is likely an underestimate. While easily diagnosed with a blood test, Valley fever has long been misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed due to lack of knowledge about the disease by both the public and physicians. The majority of people with Valley fever may never know they have it. Its symptoms often look similar to a respiratory virus infection: fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath and muscle aches.”

So it’s not one of those gross deals where you stagger into the sunlight, chomp on a leaf and grow a big spike out of your head. (Or the even worse one with houseflies.) It’s something where, with a few tragic exceptions, you feel a bit sick then get better. We are all going to die.

No, really. According to Forbes, “The ‘Last Of Us’ Zombie Fungus Pandemic Is Fiction, But Experts Warn Fungi Are A Major – And Growing – Health Threat”. As in not major and not growing much. It’s true that some 1.5 million people a year die from fungal infections, though most fungi in humans are irritations like athlete’s foot not medical calamities. Especially since:

“The most devastating fungal diseases also don’t tend to spread from person to person and typically strike those who are already very sick, such as cancer patients, critically ill Covid patients or people with compromised immune systems, explained Neil Gow, a professor of microbiology at the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology at the University of Exeter, meaning they are ‘often called the disease of the diseased.’”

Mind you they are hard to treat, as anyone who’s spent decades scratching athlete’s foot knows. And of course it would be worse if we were not people because “While it’s relatively rare for fungi to cause life-threatening disease in healthy people, they are a major source of disease – and death – in other organisms.” So if you were, say, a Cavendish banana, you’d be very scared by this story. If you could read and had a computer. Also:

“A deadly skin-eating fungal disease caused by chytrid fungi is driving a mass extinction event among amphibians. The fungus has swept through amphibians around the world with disturbing speed and wiped out 90 species in the last 50 years.”

Which we snidely suggest you recall next time that extinction is blamed in whole or in part on climate change.

Speaking of which, in the sci-fi world of climate science, the fact that it’s not a threat doesn’t mean it’s not a threat. See:

“Climate change could threaten that, warned Arturo Casadevall, a professor of microbiology at Johns Hopkins, who told Forbes the higher global temperatures could force fungi to adapt to higher temperatures and possibly allow them to tolerate our temperature.”

Or not. Oh, and in case The Last of Us hasn’t sprouted in your living room, the National Post explains that:

“A powerful introductory scene in The Last Of Us shows a scientist on a talk show explaining that a rise in global temperatures could prompt the genetic evolution required for fungal pathogens to survive at higher temperatures.”

The fictional scientist being apparently unaware that the Earth has been much warmer in the past so such evolution would already have happened if it were going to take place. Get that script writer a new mug. And why would these pathogens need to quickly evolve to survive if, as we are also being warned, they’re already thriving and spreading due to higher temperatures? Some scare this is turning out to be.

Scientific American is right there, confirming that the climate fungal scare is rubbish then somehow being obliged to crawl out into an exposed position, freeze in place and spew forth a cloud of it anyway. As they say of “The Last of Us”:

“The show takes place in the wreckage of a pandemic, when a mutant strain of the zombifying fungus makes the leap to humans. That jump is no small feat because most species of fungi cannot survive the high temperatures of a warm-blooded body. ‘It’s far-fetched,’ says Tom Chiller, chief of the Mycotic Diseases Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ‘That’s just not going to happen.’”

Got it? Fungi don’t like high temperatures. Therefore, obviously, if the planet gets warmer they will attack:

“But even if microbes don’t hijack our body and sprout from our head, newly infectious and drug-resistant fungi are an emerging threat to human health. Scientific American spoke with Chiller about this fictional pandemic to understand the real possibility of a major fungal outbreak and how our changing climate may worsen these threats.”

See, they will evolve. Whereas everything cute will just fall down and die or, possibly, be eaten by a fungus. Like, say, “hibernating bats in the U.S.” So they better wake up.

Especially as famous political doctor Anthony Fauci is following the science fiction too, in a big way:

“As human societies expand in a progressively interconnected world and the human–animal interface is perturbed, opportunities are created, often aided by climate changes, for unstable infectious agents to emerge, jump species, and in some cases adapt to spread among humans.”

Since his big examples in that piece were AIDS and COVID he didn’t have time or space to waste on which climate changes were involved or how. But you know, man, it’s like bad in every way and vice versa. Or so, apparently, the Guardian hopes, with its rave review of Gaia in which mushrooms exact nature’s revenge and the heroine sprawls naked on some moss, and NBC gloats that “Carnivores’ attacks on humans are becoming more common, and climate change isn’t helping”.

P.S. Stand by for the zombie parasitic worms. If you’re a snail.

3 comments on “Climate fungus ate my brain”

  1. Just a guess here, but couldn't the mass exodus of people from California to other adjacent states be spreading the "Valley Fever" as well?? Not only are they spreading their dreaded political views but also their fungal miseries?? Given the earth's past warming and cooling eras (medieval warm period and both glacial and little ice age) wouldn't we expect that a number of pathogens and fungi have come and gone through centuries of earth's history. Just cycles??

  2. Rent seeking "science" plus hysteria marketing media equals fear-porn and resulting "salvation" from elected sociopaths making funding exclusively available for further "studies". Rinse and repeat.

  3. Drum: The article explains why human-to-human transmission is unlikely. So human migration between states is not a plausible mechanism of spread.

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