Diseases caused by fungi are often treated with antifungal drugs, but a study reveals that these medications may no longer be an effective treatment.

What Is The Problem With Antifungal Drugs?

Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Exeter discovered that antifungal medicine doesn't have the same effect as it did years ago due to a growing resistance from fungi. This dilemma mirrors the same resistance of some bacteria to antibiotics.

A study with their findings was published on May 18 in the journal Science.

According to the study, more fungi grew a resistance to many drugs during the past 30 to 40 years. In particular, yeast infection drug azoles has been very weakened over the years.

More resistance to antifungal drugs could mean more outbreaks of fungal diseases that cannot be cured. Patients with a weakened immune system, including intensive care patients and the elderly, are at high risk. Fungal conditions can also hurt animals and plants.

The researchers noted that some fungal diseases had mortality rates that exceeded 50 percent. Overall, the number of human fatalities from fungal diseases now exceeds those of malaria and breast cancer. The deaths associated with fungal diseases are now comparable to those of HIV.

Why Are The Drugs Becoming Ineffective?

Researchers say that fungi have developed an ability to switch genes with one another, which increases the resistance to the drugs. The international movement of people and animals has improved the conditions for fungi to build a resistance.

The biggest factor that is rendering antifungal drugs ineffective is the overuse of antifungal chemicals, specifically on farms. Around the world, farmers will often spray crops with the same antifungal drugs. Nearly 20 percent of global crop losses can be attributed to fungi.

"There are fungi in the air all the time, in every lung-full of air we breathe," said professor and study co-author Matthew Fisher.

These unintended uses of the drugs have made them ineffective at treating many fungi diseases.

How To Solve The Global Antifungal Drug Problem

The global threat posed by weakened antifungal drugs has been gone largely unnoticed, and something must be done about it.

"Without intervention, fungal conditions affecting humans, animals and plants will become increasingly difficult to counteract," said professor and study co-author Sarah Gurr.

The researchers recommended that new drugs should be developed to treat fungi, and there should be improvements for the current drugs as well. They also suggest that people should make sure that existing antifungal drugs are used correctly.

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