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Researchers Develop Way To Track Potentially Dangerous Fungal Infection

Goal Is To Improve Treatment Of Histoplasmosis

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Researchers have developed a new way to detect and track a potentially dangerous fungus that’s increasingly causing lung infections.

Mold and fungus are all around, from your shower curtain to dirt in the backyard. But one type of fungus can be especially hard to detect and treat.

As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, doctors can now actually see the fungus in your cells and tell whether you need treatment.

Anne Unger survived a fungal infection that nearly took her left eye and now she’s cautious when doing even simple tasks like taking the leaves.

Anything that stirs up soil can cause you to breathe in the spores of a fungus known as Histoplasma, which is what afflicted Unger.

“My retina was becoming detached. And so at that point, I had to do something because I was legally blind in this eye,” she said.

Surgery stopped the damage for Unger, but stopping the fungus is a growing concern.

More people are getting infections from Histoplasma and experts say there aren’t many good options for treating it.

“The number of anti-fungal drugs out there right now is relatively limited and they often have side effects that are fairly toxic to the host,” Chad Rappleye, Ph.D. with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said.

A team of researchers at the Wexner Medical Center have developed a new approach.

Fungal cells hide inside human cells, making it difficult to find and stop them.

But the researchers discovered a way to mark the fungus so as it grows, it glows bright red.

“So as the pathogen increases in numbers and replicates, the fluorescence gets brighter and brighter and brighter,” Rappleye said.

That glow helped doctors quickly find the darker spot that meant the medication they had tried against the fungus was working and that the infection wasn’t growing. The human cells remained relatively safe, Gomez reported.

That helps researchers narrow down possible anti-fungal drugs that are both effective and less toxic so someday, patients like Unger could get treated long before serious damage is done.

Histoplasmosis fungal infections usually show up as a respiratory illness but the symptoms can be so non-descript that it’s often misdiagnosed, Gomez reported.

Like most diseases, the sooner treatment is started, the greater the success rate.

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