25/01/2018 07:42 SAST | Updated 25/01/2018 08:33 SAST

Western Cape Fungal Disease Reportedly Found

A newly discovered fungus is reportedly particularly dangerous to patients with HIV.

JEFF PACHOUD via Getty Images

A deadly new fungus which kills half the people it infects has been found in the Western Cape, according to TimesLive.

The fungus, called Emergomyces africanus, has reportedly been found in 10% of air samples collected over 50 weeks on a rooftop on Bellville, Cape Town, and in soil samples in 11 locations from Simon's Town to Kleinmond.

The fungus was reportedly only discovered in 2013 and, while most cases were in the Western Cape, but have also been reported in five other provinces and Lesotho. It is particularly dangerous for HIV patients and those with other immune diseases.

According to TimesLive, Ilan Schwartz, an infectious diseases expert from the University of Manitoba in Canada, 14 cases of emergomycosis were found at public hospitals in Cape Town over a 15-month period.

"[This] is an opportunistic infection of immunocompromised hosts. One patient was a kidney transplant recipient and the remainder [of cases] have occurred in patients with advanced HIV infection.

"Patients most commonly present with widespread skin lesions and pulmonary disease. The reported case-fatality ratio is 50 percent," he reportedly said.

In a paper published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Schwartz and others wrote that the fungus was found in 30 percent of 60 soil samples taken from across the country.

Of these, 82 percent of the samples came from the Western Cape. While an "environmental reservoir" for the fungus has not been established, it is presumed that it is harboured by soil."

"Our findings demonstrate that Es. africanus is present in a high proportion of soil samples collected from a range of habitats in South Africa, suggesting that soil might be a natural reservoir for this pathogen," Schwartz and his colleagues wrote.

An article published in (Leading International Fungal Education) in 2013 states that the disease caused by the fungus was found in HIV patients with a CD4 count lower than 50. There were cases dating back to 2009 but the journal notes that there have probably been cases for longer.

The clinical features include fever, loss of weight, skin lesions and chest X-rays similar to patients who have TB.