Earlier today Cape Town ETC published a story regarding a new fungus found in the Western Cape. We contacted the Western Cape Department of Health to seek further clarity on the fungus.

“As the department, we are not aware of this, it could be in the City of Cape Town’s health department jurisdiction, but we don’t know anything,” said spokesperson Mark Van Der Heever.

Mayoral Committee member for safety and security JP Smith also said he was not aware of the fungus.

The story originated from a diseases expert, Ilan Schwartz, from the University of Manitoba in Canada who published two papers on the new disease identified in 2013. His research claims that a new fungus which kills half the people it infects has been found in the Western Cape.

According to the study, Emergomyces Africanus was found in soil samples in 11 locations including Simon’s Town, Malmesbury and Kleinmond. It was also detected in 10% of air samples collected over 50 weeks on a rooftop in Bellville, Cape Town. Ilan Schwartz Infectious diseases expert from the University of Manitoba in Canada has published two papers on the new disease which was only identified in 2013.

He wrote in the PLOS journal Neglected Tropical Disease that Emergomyces Africanus was already recognised as the cause of the most frequently diagnosed fungal infection in South Africa. Dimorphic fungi exists in the form of mould and filaments. The infection of the fungus occurs through inhalation.

The most cases were reported  in the Western Cape‚ but they were also reported in five other provinces – and in Lesotho. The fungus posed a particular threat to patients with weak immune systems‚ those with HIV are particularly at risk.

Link: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/2/pdfs/17-1351.pdf

“In Cape Town‚ a clinical and laboratory surveillance study at public hospitals over a 15-month period identified 14 cases of culture-proven emergomycosis‚” Schwartz wrote.

An international team‚ including scientists from various universities in Cape Town and Stellenbosch‚ along with Schwartz tested 60 soil samples‚ mostly from the Western Cape‚ and 18 were found to be positive.  Between September 2015 and August 2016‚ the team also placed a spore trap on the roof of a Bellville building owned by the City of Cape Town. Molecular analysis in the aerobiology lab at the University of Tulsa in the US found Emergomyces Africanus on 34 days over 11 weeks.

“Although an environmental reservoir for Emergomyces Africanus has not been established‚ soil is presumed to harbor the mycelial (thread-like) phase‚” Schwartz said.
Most aspects of this organism remain a mystery‚ including the ecologic niche.
Picture: Twitter

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