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Fungal Spores Can Travel Thousands Of Miles To Infect People

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(fungi) and their spores are found in a wide range of Earth environments. A recent study in the soil of Antarctica found viable spores from 11 mold taxa including the common indoor molds Aspergillus and Penicillium (Godinho, Goncalves et al. 2015).


Viable fungi are found almost everywhere on earth including on mountains, deserts, oceans and freshwater lakes/rivers, and virtually every indoor environment. Another recent study found 2 strains of the common pathogenic mold Aspergillus fumigatus in the International Space Station (Knox, Blachowicz et al. 2016).

The exact lifespan of fungal spores is not well known, however many fungal spores can remain alive (viable) for months to years. Such spores can then germinate when given proper moisture and environmental conditions. Many fungal spores (including those of species which cause infections in humans, animals, and plants) can travel for hundreds or thousands of miles in air and can remain viable. 

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There have been several well-documented cases of rust fungi having traveled by air long distances to cause serious infections of important crop plants, including: 1) sugarcane rust traveling from Africa to the West Indies in 1978, 2) coffee leaf rust traveling from Africa to Brazil in 1970, 3) wheat rust traveling from Africa to Australia in 1969, and 4) wheat rust traveling from Australia to New Zealand in 1980 (Brown and Hovmoller 2002). Some studies have reported that large amounts of African dust and be transported across the Atlantic and deposit in places as far west as New Mexico and as far north as Maine (Shinn, Griffin et al. 2003).

Microbial studies have reported that a large number of viable fungi is present in this transatlantic African dust, including many common fungi which contain allergens and mycotoxins including Alternaria, Aspergillus, Bipolaris, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Nigrospora, Penicillium, Scopulariopsis, and Trichophyton (Shinn, Griffin et al. 2003).

References / Sources

Brown, J. K. and M. S. Hovmoller (2002). “Aerial dispersal of pathogens on the global and continental scales and its impact on plant disease.” Science 297(5581): 537-541.

Godinho, V. M., et al. (2015). “Diversity and bioprospection of fungal community present in oligotrophic soil of continental Antarctica.” Extremophiles 19(3): 585-596.

Knox, B. P., et al. (2016). “Characterization of Aspergillus fumigatus Isolates from Air and Surfaces of the International Space Station.” mSphere 1(5).

Shinn, E. A., et al. (2003). “Atmospheric transport of mold spores in clouds of desert dust.” Arch Environ Health 58(8): 498-504.



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