Deadly feline fungus joins the new species list

A new fungus, assumed to be potentially life-threatening for cats and humans alike, has been discovered and added to the new species list.

Dr. Vanessa Barrs, a faculty of veterinary science at the University of Sydney, discovered this new fungus in cats.

"This all originated from spotting an unusual fungal infection in three cats I was seeing at the University's cat treatment centre in 2006," Dr Barrs explained. "These cats presented with a tumor-like growth in one of their eye sockets, that had spread there from the nasal cavity. The fungal spores are inhaled and in susceptible cats they establish a life-threatening infection that is very difficult to treat."

Following 6-year long investigations with some of the best fungal experts at the CBS-KNAW fungal biodiversity center, the fungus was finally confirmed to be a new species.

Named Aspergillus fumigates, this fungus may cause virulent disease in both humans and cats by infecting their respiratory tract.

"Similar to the closely related fungus Aspergillus fumigates, this new species of fungus can reproduce both asexually and sexually - and we discovered both phases of the fungus," Dr Barrs added.

Around 20 domestic cats in Australia and one cat from the United Kingdom have already been diagnosed with this fungal infection. Though most of the cats suffering from this fungal infection were healthy, the two human cases which were infected by this fungus were highly immunocompromised, the researchers claim.

Better recognition and detection methods may help make identification easy, they added.

"Fungi like Aspergillus felis can be easily misidentified as the closely related fungus Aspergillus fumigatus, which is a well-studied cause of disease in humans. However, A. felis is intrinsically more resistant to antifungal drugs than A. fumigatus and this has important implications for therapy and prognosis."

Since this fungus has demonstrated a 100 percent fatality rate in humans and a mere 15 percent survival rate in cats, steps need to be taken to help determine the risk factors of people getting infected by this deadly fungus.

This research and its findings have been published in the journal PLOS One, and further studies are expected to be done by the same researchers, along with collaboration with the researchers from the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research.

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