In 1999, on Vancouver Island, Canada, some people experienced symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, and fever almost simultaneously. At first, they thought they had a cold, so just take some medicine and take a break. But after a period of time, their symptoms did not relieve but worsened. They began to suffer from photophobia, severe pain in the chest and head, plaques and blisters on their skin, and often inexplicably furious. Subsequently, this weird disease quickly spread to the mainland near Vancouver Island.
Later, some people began to notice that in areas where this strange disease appeared, some cats, dogs and other animals became abnormal. They had difficulty breathing, lumps under their fur, and symptoms of epilepsy. Some animals’ eyes seemed to be still Can’t see anything.
What happened in these places? Why are people and animals sickened?
Killer sneaking in
Scientists noticed the strange diseases that appeared in Vancouver Island and other places. Through research, they finally confirmed that these people and animals are suffering from the same cause-Cryptococcus gordonii infection!
False-color electron microscope image of Cryptococcus gordonii, a fungus that can cause fatal human diseases. The yellow areas are spores.
Cryptococcus gordonii is a filamentous fungus that scientists identified only in 1970. Like many other fungi, it usually lives in the soil, especially near trees. When humans or other mammals inhale the spores of Cryptococcus guttata, these spores invade their lungs and cause lung infections.
However, Cryptococcus gordonii can not only cause lung infections, but lung infections are only the beginning. It is like a killer hiding in the dark. It first enters the animal’s lungs, and then advances to the various vital parts of the animal’s body-the infection spreads from the lungs to the skin, mucous membranes, lymph nodes, bones, internal organs, central nervous system, etc. Infections of the central nervous system can cause brain diseases such as chronic meningitis. This is why patients feel pain in the head and chest. And Cryptococcus gortii does not spread from person to person or from person to animal.
What’s even more bizarre is that, unlike many other germs, Cryptococcus gordonii does not “get in” while infecting people who have weakened immune functions or who have diseases. Instead, it likes to “fight hard” and infect those immune functions. A normal, healthy person. And Cryptococcus guttata infection is usually very insidious. Most people who have been exposed to Cryptococcus guttata will not have the infection, and those who accidentally inhale the spores of Cryptococcus guttata will not show symptoms soon. It took a few weeks or even ten months before I found out that I was infected. More importantly, it is very dangerous for people to be infected by Cryptococcus guttata. According to some statistics, the lethality rate of Cryptococcus guttata infection exceeds 30%.
Although the infection of Cryptococcus guttata is concealed and harmful, there are not many cases. The infection of humans and animals on Vancouver Island surprised scientists. This is because Cryptococcus gordonii is not found anywhere in the world. Previous studies have shown that they only live in tropical and subtropical climates, especially Australia and Papua New Guinea and surrounding areas. Most of the cases that have been detected also occur in these areas. , And they may not survive elsewhere. Vancouver Island is a temperate region, and this fungus has never been seen in this area before. How did these Cryptococcus gordonae get there?
An unexpected path
At present, scientists are still not sure why Cryptococcus guttata can appear in temperate regions such as Vancouver Island. It has been speculated that Cryptococcus guttata may stick to human shoes, clothes or bodies and be taken to Vancouver Island. However, there are very few Cryptococcus gordonae brought by this way, and it is unlikely that they will multiply and spread to such a large area.
Nowadays, some scientists have conducted genetic studies on Cryptococcus guttata in North America and found that they came there 66 to 88 years ago. From this they put forward a bold point-Cryptococcus gordonii was washed into the North American continent by a tsunami in the northern hemisphere in 1964!
The tsunami of 1964 and Cryptococcus gourdii seem to be irrelevant. What is going on?
This has to start with the opening of the Panama Canal. According to scientists’ speculations, since the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, trade between North and South has become more frequent. Cryptococcus gordonii, which originally lived in tropical and subtropical regions, adhered to the ship and was taken to the Pacific Ocean. The ocean current spreads northward in the Pacific Ocean. In the sea, they may have survived for decades. Until 1964, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake was discovered in the Prince William Sound area of Alaska, which was the second largest earthquake ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere. Then, a huge tsunami rushed all the way from the Kodiak Islands in the Gulf of Alaska to the coastal areas of the northeastern Pacific Ocean.
In this incident, Cryptococcus guttata may have been washed all the way to the forests of Canada’s Vancouver Island and other coastal areas in the northeastern Pacific Ocean by the tsunami. They lurked there and infected people and animals there at the right time. Previous investigations showed that on Vancouver Island and the nearby mainland near the coast, the content of this fungus in trees and soil is indeed higher, which confirms the view that Cryptococcus gordonii may come from the tsunami.
So, why did the cases of Cryptococcus guttata appear regularly after decades of the tsunami? There is no answer to this question, but scientists speculate that it may be inextricably linked to climate warming. Scientists have found that in the past 40 years, the temperature on Vancouver Island has been rising slowly, with higher summer temperatures and warmer winters than before. This may provide a suitable living environment for Cryptococcus gordonii.
Of course, this view needs more evidence to support, and there are still many unsolved questions, such as whether Cryptococcus gordonii has really survived in the Pacific for decades? Are there large amounts of Cryptococcus gordonii in other areas baptized by the 1964 tsunami? Why did infections begin to appear regularly only decades after the 1964 tsunami? and many more.
Peculiar views trigger thinking
In fact, natural disasters not only cause direct loss of life and property, they can indeed help rare diseases break out. In 2011, a tornado swept across Joplin, Missouri, USA. After the tornado, some people injured in the wind disaster developed fever, wounds swelling and pain, and even skin necrosis. After examination, the doctor found that their wound was infected with the fungal sphingomycin. This fungus usually lives in soil, rotting wood or other organic matter. Tornadoes bring fungi into the air or some sharp objects, giving them the opportunity to come into contact with wounds on the human body and eventually cause infection. The same infection also occurred after the Indonesian tsunami in 2004.
However, the fact that a large tsunami actually caused an outbreak of fungal infection 35 years later is somewhat unexpected. This means that the tsunami may be a hidden route to spread pathogens, and some pathogens may be lurking for a long time in some places that we often overlook (for example, Cryptococcus guttata may survive for decades in seawater). This is a wake-up call for scientists. If this view holds true, will tsunamis such as the 2004 Indonesian tsunami and the 2011 Japanese tsunami also trigger an outbreak of Cryptococcus gordonii or similar fungi? And if this view is confirmed, then scientists will need to think about the tsunami’s ability to transfer different kinds of pathogenic factors, and this view will also help scientists understand the role of natural forces in the spread of infectious diseases.