According to a recent study conducted by a medical student from Manchester University in the United Kingdom, approximately 50 percent of cystic fibrosis patients are also infected by the Aspergillus fungus, which is caused by an exposure to mold. The research highlights the dangers of mold, and it may help doctors improve diagnosis and treatment for patients with CF.
Researcher Jo Armstead analyzed data from 30 different countries and found that there are over 75,000 people who are both afflicted with CF and who also suffer from an aspergillus fungal infection, with more than half of those patients being over the age of 18. The research was conducted during the summer of 2013, when Armstead was working with Professor Denning, Director of the NHS National Aspergillosis Centre and Professor of Infectious Diseases in Global Health in the Faculty’s Institute of Inflammation and Repair.
“The life expectancy of people with CF has been increasing, but aspergillosis has a major negative impact on many,” Professor Denning explained. “By painstakingly crunching the numbers, Jo has helped us better understand the scale of the challenge which will lead to better diagnostics and treatment strategies. There will be many patients who over the coming years will be grateful to Jo and her work.”
There are about 30,000 CF patients in the United States — the largest patient population with the disease in the world, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The UK has the second highest number of adults with CF, with 5,290 registered cases. The new study reveals the importance of cystic fibrosis patients avoiding exposure to elevated levels of Aspergillus.
“Aspergillus may cause several pulmonary manifestations in CF patients. Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) is recognized as a severe complication and characterized by an accelerated decline in lung function,” said researchers from a previous research project conducted at Statens Serum Institut’s Department of Microbiological Surveillance and Research in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Aspergillosis causes airway infections, bronchitis, and the ABPA allergy, which starts in childhood and reaches a peak in late teenage years. Treatment involves anti fungal therapy or oral steroids, however, neither treatment has been shown to be very effective, as anti fungal resistance to these treatment types continues to be an issue for clinicians.
“In addition to being found in an outdoor environment, Aspergillus is also frequently found in household dust and on building materials in properties that have suffered moisture damage and mold growth,” said Chris Heller, from FastMoldRemoval, a company specialized in mold elimination. “People living, working or going to school in these contaminated indoor environments may be exposed to high levels of these spores and as this new research indicates it could be a major detriment for those with CF.”
“It has been really great to be involved in the first project of its kind ever done, with dramatic results and real opportunities for better health in young CF sufferers,” Armstead said. The third year student at Newcastle University Medical School published the study in the journal PLOS, and she is now considering a career in acute medicine with expedition medicine as she prepares for her exams.