September 23rd to 27th is Fungal Disease Awareness Week, an annual campaign to highlight the vital difference early recognition of serious fungal diseases makes in patient outcomes.
Killing over 1.5 million and affecting over a billion people worldwide, fungal diseases have been the most neglected topic by public health authorities. In the UK, it is estimated that the total burden of serious fungal illness is between 241,525 and 662,987 cases per year, which compares with 228,000 breast and 89,000 colon cancer cases being treated in 2018. Early diagnosis is important, but lack of awareness and specialised knowledge of fungal diseases among GPs, specialists and other health care professionals is problematic. Fungal infections tend to be clinically ‘quiet’ in their early stages and need to be actively sought/looked for. This gap too often leads to misdiagnosis or no diagnosis in patients and results in unnecessary suffering.
The Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections (GAFFI) is one of the organisations working to change this through its advocacy work, which has included lobbying the World Health Organisation (WHO) to place vital lifesaving drugs on the Essential Medicines List (EML), recommending Essential Diagnostic tests and laying out strategic plans to combat fungal infections worldwide.
If given the proper attention and diagnosis, most deaths from fungal diseases are avoidable.
Professor David Denning, Chief Executive of the Global Action Fund for Fungal Diseases (GAFFI) said:
“Different medical specialists see patients with fungal disease, yet it is often unrecognised. Antifungal treatment is more complex than treatment for bacterial or most viral infections, and drug interactions are particularly problematic. Health systems linking diagnostic facilities with therapeutic expertise are typically fragmented, with major elements missing in thousands of hospital settings globally”
In the UK this means vulnerable people such as Kate Montali of Northamptonshire, who was diagnosed with Aspergillosis and Bronchiectasis after using a ventilator in hospital, often find themselves speaking to GPs who struggle to identify the disease;
“I was first diagnosed with ABPA (Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis) in 2006 after my consultant, who was a local consultant, told me that he would let me have the last two tests that he could ever give me – and don’t ask him for any more. One was a blood test, for my IgE levels, which are levels to find out how allergic you are to everything – and mine were so high that it indicated that I had ABPA. And he gave me a CT scan to disprove bronchiectasis! And six weeks later I had the answers, that I had both. That I had aspergillosis and bronchiectasis.”
Fungal Disease Awareness Week, originally organised by the US-based Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and other partner organisations, stresses that awareness and early identification by health care professionals is vital to the management and lifesaving treatment needed to combat fungal diseases.
#FIGHTFUNGUS is the Global Action Fund for Fungal Infection’s campaign to get more GPs and patients talking about the effects and symptoms of fungal disease in the UK.
You can reduce your chances of getting a fungal disease through awareness of the different types of diseases and the environments which allow them to develop. GAFFI is focused on ensuring that diagnostic tests and antifungal therapies are available to everyone and has made representation to the WHO regarding antifungal resistance in Aspergillus related to agricultural use of fungicides. These guidelines will be highlighted on their social media pages during this year’s Fungal Disease Awareness Week.