Sci-Fi Heroine: Beware the masquerading microbe

On Saturday night, Weber State students donned masks, dresses and suits for the annual homecoming dance, but students aren’t the only ones masquerading around in the dark. Another organism has been parading around like harmless fungi, but has caused severe crop destruction of economic proportions, as well as loss of life in mammals across the world.

In April 2012 in Texas, a 14-year-old girl was admitted to the hospital with a growth on her leg which appeared after a swim in a stagnant, algae-covered pond. Professionals gave her antibiotics and antifungal treatment, but to no avail. The growth persisted until it covered her entire leg. The growth caused inflammation and muscle necrosis (death of the tissue) in her leg. In order to save her life, health care professionals had to amputate her leg. She was released from the hospital 10 days later with no further signs of infection.

The name of this masquerading microbe is Pythium insidiosum. Cases of human infection have been reported in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, Malaysia, Haiti and the United States. However, 80 percent of the cases since 2010 have been reported in Thailand. Although this microbe prefers tropical climates, wet environments or stagnant waters, there have been reports of this microbe being seen in mosquito larvae, which means it may be mosquito-borne.

Infection in humans and other mammals usually occur in the eyes, skin or circulatory system with a mortality rate of 29 percent (reported in 2011). Doctors’ familiarity with Pythium insidiosum is limited because of its rarity, most mistaking this masquerading microbe as a fungal infection. Misdiagnoses of this pathogen is the reason for the higher mortality rate, and its similarities to fungal pathogens is the reason for misdiagnoses.

The treatment of infection usually involves removal of all tissue and limbs. There have been recent developments in the treatment of immunotherapy, but results vary. If you happen to dive into any questionable bodies of water or go meandering through wet environments and notice any lesions growing on your skin, you may want to make a quick trip to the emergency room.

The results of contracting this microbe are rare, with no documented evidence that the infection has spread from human to animal or vice versa. Think twice before you go playing around stagnant pools in the tropical and subtropical areas of the United States without your mosquito repellant, and you should be able to avoid any infection of this masked microbe.

If you haven’t noticed any abnormal growths, you are safe to enjoy all the exciting events Homecoming Week has to offer. Just keep the bug spray handy.