Resistant fungus on the rise in Denmark

Stephen Gadd
March 1st, 2019

This article is more than 4 years old.

Increasing numbers of people are being found with an antibiotic-resistant strain of a common fungus

Aspergillus fumigatus looks pretty innocuous under the microscope, but the resistant form can be deadly (photo: Jplm/Strobilomyces)

Aspergillus fumigatus is a fungus that is widespread in nature and typically found in soil and decaying organic matter such as compost heaps, where it plays an essential role in carbon and nitrogen recycling.

However, although normally harmless to humans, it can cause lung disease in people with weakened immune systems who inhale fungal spores.

To make matters worse, a strain of the fungus has become resistant to antibiotics and more people are being found to have the resistant form, according to a new report from the government’s environment and food committee.

The researchers have studied the spread of the resistant form of the fungus in a small group of selected patients at Copenhagen’s main hospital Rigshospitalet, reports DR Nyheder.

Over a ten-year period the number of people found with the resistant form has doubled to 3.7 percent of the samples examined.

Azole in the frame
Experts think that the fungus may have become resistant due to the use of legal and approved anti-fugal agents containing a chemical compound called azole, which is typically used in the agricultural industry in connection with corn production and the impregnation of wood.

Azole and the active ingredients in some of these anti-fungal agents are almost identical to the ones used in medicines to combat fungal infections in humans.

When the fungus is resistant doctors can’t treat it with their ‘first choice’ antibiotics and time can be lost leading to fatalities amongst patients.

READ ALSO: Denmark to host new international centre for antibiotic resistance

Resistant spores are common in many countries and they may have made their way to Denmark in tulip bulbs from the Netherlands, where there is a big problem.

Partnering with researchers
According to the report, the use of azole in agriculture has doubled over ten years and 200 tonnes a year has been used for the last few years.

The environment and food minister, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, has instructed his ministry to enter into a dialogue with researchers at Aarhus University’s department of agroecology to collect more information.

“There should not be any doubt that the important thing for me is patient safety,” said Ellemann-Jensen.

“I want to find out whether the use of anti-fungal agents in Denmark – whether for the impregnation of wood or for something else – leads to patients not being able to be treated effectively because of resistance. If this turns out to be the case, I’m willing to ban them. If the source is imported bulbs then we have to solve the problem in the EU.”


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