Here’s What WHO Lists As Highest Priority


A warning this week by researchers at the CDC, about the spread of the potentially lethal fungus across the U.S., highlights the threat of other potentially dangerous fungal pathogens you’ve probably never heard of, but are an unrecognized and emerging global health threat.

Key Facts

On Monday, the CDC warned the spread of an invasive yeast fungus, known as Candida Auris, spread across the U.S. at an alarming rate over the past few years, according to a report by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Individuals who are more likely to become compromised with fungal infections include the elderly, critically ill and immunocompromised individuals, according to a report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

Fungal infection mortality rates are similar to other diseases including tuberculosis and malaria, according to the NCBI.

Despite becoming a growing concern to global health, fungal infections do not receive as many resources as other diseases, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO compiled a fungal priority pathogens list as a means to prioritize fungal pathogens due to a lack of research and development regarding fungal infections.

Dangerous Fungal Pathogens Most In Need Of Study

WHO lists the following 11 fungi as most in need of more research – the first four of the highest priority; the next seven are of medium priority.

  • Cryptococcus neoformans: Globally distributed yeast pathogen found in nature (soil, decaying wood), can cause infections like cryptococcosis, affecting the lungs, central nervous system and blood with a mortality ranging from 41% and 61%. (High priority.)
  • Candida auris: Globally distributed yeast pathogen, which can cause invasive candidiasis, a fungal infection affecting the heart, blood, central nervous system, eyes, bones and internal organs, with a mortality rate ranging from 29% and 53%. (High priority.)
  • Aspergillus fumigatus: Globally distributed environmental mold capable of producing invasive infections (invasive aspergillus, IA) mainly present in the respiratory system but can infect other organs, like the central nervous system with anti-fungal resistant IA mortality rates ranging from 47% and 88%. (High priority.)
  • Candida albicans: Globally distributed yeast pathogenic, normally a part of human microbiota but can cause infections like invasive candidiasis with a mortality rate ranging from 20% to 50%. (High priority.)
  • Nakaseomyces glabrata: Globally distributed commensal yeast pathogen that can lead to infections like invasive candidiasis with a mortality ranging from 20% to 50%. (Medium priority.)
  • Histoplasma spp.: Globally distributed dimorphic fungi present in nature (soil, bird and bat droppings) and yeast-like form in humans, which can cause histoplasmosis affecting immunocompromised patients with a mortality rate ranging from 21% to 53% in HIV/AIDS patients. (Medium priority.)
  • Eumycetoma causative agents: Is a deep tissue infection caused by fungi found in soil and water, which has amputations risks as high as 39% and 60%— 80% of patients report significant impact to their daily lives but overall mortality rate is thought to be low. (Medium priority.)
  • Mucorales: Is a large group of globally distributed pathogenic molds, affecting patients after spore inhalation, and primarily can cause infections like mucormycosis, which affects lungs and sinuses though it could spread to the eye, central nervous system and gastrointestinal tracts and has a mortality rate ranging from 23% to 80% in adults. (Medium priority.)
  • Fusarium spp: Is a group of pathogenic molds typically found in tropical regions, but is globally distributed, and can cause infections like invasive fusariosis, which primarily affects respiratory systems and eyes but can spread through other organs and the central nervous system, with a mortality rate ranging from 43% and 67%. (Medium priority.)
  • Candida tropicalis: Globally distributed commensal yeast, common in human and animal microbiota causing no harm during normal health conditions but can produce infections like invasive candidiasis which has a mortality rate ranging from 55% to 60% in adults. (Medium priority.)
  • Candida parapsilosis: Globally distributed commensal yeast, common in human and animal microbiota causing no harm in normal health conditions but can cause infections like invasive candidiasis, especially in critically ill and immunocompromised patients, and is associated with a mortality rate between 20% to 45%. (Medium priority.)

Key Background

Over 150 million cases of severe fungal infections occur worldwide, according to the NCBI. There are approximately 1.7 million deaths a year associated with fungal infections. Antifungal drugs used for high-risk patients have caused some fungus to adapt, and has led to multi-drug resistant fungi, including some of the more deadly fungal pathogens like C. auris.


Interest in fungi has gained some traction following the hit HBO Max show The Last Of Us, which was based on a video game. Though that infection is caused by a parasitic fungus called cordyceps, in reality cordyceps is prevalent mainly in insects, and experts have said the risk of humans facing such a scenario is highly unlikely.

Crucial Quote

“If [the fungi] get into a hospital, they are very difficult to control and get out,” William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told the Washington Post. “They can persist, smoldering, causing infections for a considerable period of time despite the best efforts of the infection control team and everyone else in the hospital.”

Further Reading

‘Dramatic’ Rise In Deadly Superbug Fungus Infections In U.S., CDC Report Says (Forbes)

The ‘Last Of Us’ Zombie Fungus Pandemic Is Fiction, But Experts Warn Fungi Are A Major—And Growing—Health Threat (Forbes)

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