Deadly fungi in Cape Town

The Herald (South Africa) - - NEWS -

LARGE pop­u­la­tions of po­ten­tially deadly fungi are thriv­ing in cen­tral Cape Town.

But the mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist who dis­cov­ered them says the cryp­to­coc­cal fungi – which cause menin­gi­tis – do not pose a risk in peo­ple whose im­mune sys­tems have not been com­pro­mised by HIV-Aids.

Af­ter tu­ber­cu­lo­sis‚ cryp­to­coc­cal menin­gi­tis is the lead­ing cause of death in HIV-Aids pa­tients in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

Peo­ple be­come in­fected when they in­hale the air­borne mi­cro­scopic spores pro­duced by path­o­genic cryp­to­coc­cal fungi, which grow on de­cay­ing wood.

Last year‚ South Africa launched the world’s largest na­tional screen­ing pro­gramme to de­tect cryp­to­coc­cal menin­gi­tis in HIV pa­tients.

Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity PhD stu­dent Jo Marie Vreulink said yes­ter­day it of­fered ex­cel­lent pro­tec­tion from the dis­ease.

Her su­per­vi­sor‚ Pro­fes­sor Alf Botha‚ had been search­ing for the fungi in South Africa since 2003, when Vreulink found nu­mer­ous colonies in sam­ples col­lected from a park in the cen­tre of Cape Town.

The find and an­other in the North­ern Cape are the first lo­ca­tions where the fungi have been found in such large num­bers on trees in South Africa.

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