Indian botanist catches deadly silver leaf fungal disease from plant

Academic journal says this is a 'first of its kind' case of transmission to human

A mycologist from Kolkata city was infected by a fungal disease caused by the pathogen Chondrostereum purpureum. Photo: Medical Mycology Case Reports
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An Indian botanist who specialises in mycology — the study of fungi — contracted a deadly fungal disease found in plants, it has been reported.

Experts said this is a previously unseen case of phytonoses — the transmission of plant disease to humans.

The Medical Mycology Case Reports journal said that a mycologist, 61, from eastern Kolkata was infected by silver leaf, a fungal disease caused by the pathogen Chondrostereum purpureum.

This mostly attacks species of the rose family, causing progressive silvering of leaves on affected stems and branches.

According to the report, this is a “first of its kind” case transmission from plant host to a human.

The academic had been working with decaying material and various plant fungi for a long time as part of his research.

“This case highlights the potential of environmental plant fungi to cause disease in humans and stresses the importance of molecular techniques to identify the causative fungal species,” the journal said.

He had been complaining of hoarseness, a sore throat, a cough difficulty in swallowing and fatigue for several months, said the report.

A CT scan detected a paratracheal abscess, a potentially fatal condition where pus collects in the neck.

Samples were sent for testing to the World Health Organisation's Collaborating Centre for Research on Fungi of Medical Importance, in Chandigarh, the capital of the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana.

There the researcher was diagnosed with Chondrostereum purpureum, the report said.

It was treated with complete drainage of the pus and an oral course of antifungal medication.

“After two years of follow-up, the patient was absolutely fine and there is no evidence of recurrence,” the report said.

The journal also said that the case demonstrated the crossover of plant pathogens into humans when working in close contact with plant fungi.

“The cross-kingdom pathogenicity demands much work to be done in order to explore insights of the mechanisms involved, thus leading to possible recommendations to control and contain these infections,” it said.

Prof Shyam Saran Vaish, head of plant pathology in Banaras Hindu University, in Varanasi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said, “in nature, anything is possible”.

“The organism sometimes develops some sort of host jumping,” Prof Vaish told The National.

“The mutation or development of the mechanism switches over to the host also. The pathogen which earlier was infecting plants may change and infect human beings.”

Updated: April 03, 2023, 3:52 PM