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How an Indian mushroom hunter became the first victim of a rare rose killer fungus

Silver leaf disease caused by the fungus Chondrostereum purpureum. Twitter/@RLIBlog

New Delhi: As if a leaf from the post-apocalyptic drama series ‘Last of Us’, where not a virus, but a fungus takes over the world, a man from India, a mushroom hunter, has become the first unfortunate human to contract a deadly disease and a rare fungal infection caused by the rose killer fungus.

Called Chondrostereum purpureum, the fungus attacks roses and afflicts them with a rare disease called silver leaf disease.

But how did this Indian become the first human host of this fungus?

How did the man get infected with the rose killer fungus?

It turns out that a person in India recently had the misfortune to become the first person in the world to fall ill from fungus. It is also one of the rarest examples of a plant pathogen crossing humans.

The strange medical incident was detailed in Medical Mycology Case Reports, according to which, the 60-year-old went to an outpatient clinic in India with symptoms of cough, fatigue, sore throat that had plagued him for nearly three months. Tests revealed he had an abscess along the right side of his trachea.

Here’s what the doctors found

When tested, the pus revealed no common bacterial suspects, but doctors did find a fungal presence, which was later confirmed by culture in a Petri dish. Once sent to the World Health Organization (WHO), they discovered it was a fungus called Chondrostereum purpureum.

What is Chondrostereum purpureum?

The fungus causes a disease called silver leaf in plants that primarily attacks the rose family. The fungus easily grows on dead or dying wood, but when it clings to healthy living plants, it eventually kills them, turning the leaves to silver in the process.

This was the first time a human was infected with Chondrostereum purpureum. While fungal infections usually occur in immunocompromised people, this was the first time they had struck a man with a healthy immune system.

Read also : ‘The Last of Us’: Rare Fungal Disease Called Silver Leaf Disease Finds First Victim in Indian Mushroom Hunter

Research indicates that it was actually the man’s profession that compromised him in the infection. He was a plant mycologist – a specialist in fungi who worked with decaying plant material and other fungi in his research. They hypothesize that he was exposed to the fungus enough times that he was somehow able to overcome the species barrier.

Road to recovery

However, luckily for the man, he fared better than the rosebush. He had his pus drained and was placed on two months of antifungal medication, after which his symptoms resolved and after two years he showed no recurrent infections.

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