Where research stands on a fungal vaccine

HBO's popular zombie show The Last of Us is not the future for fungal infections, but thousands of Americans are hospitalized and hundreds die each year because of fungi, as there are no approved vaccines, NBC News reported Feb. 10. 

A team of researchers at Athens-based University of Georgia recently found promising results for its investigative fungal vaccine, but the first-of-its-kind candidate still has to go through human trials. 

Every year in the U.S., there are more than 75,000 hospitalizations and almost 9 million outpatient visits for fungal diseases, according to the CDC. In 2021, at least 7,000 people died. The CDC estimates the annual costs of fungal infections to be between $11.5 billion and $48 billion.

"These are the most important infectious diseases that you have not heard of," Karen Norris, PhD, an immunology professor at the University of Georgia, told NBC News. "A vaccine has the potential to move forward and protect a large swath of individuals."

Dr. Norris is part of the team researching the fungal vaccine candidate that cleared the animal trial stage. With more funding, she said the investigative pan-fungal vaccine — which targets fungi responsible for a common mold, a yeast that can cause serious blood infections, and one that leads to pneumonia — could finish human trials in the next five years.

If successful, the candidate would be the first-ever approved fungal vaccine in the world, but there's a lack of urgency and few funding opportunities for fungal vaccines, according to NBC News

Severe cases are sporadic, John Galgiani, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, Ariz., told the outlet. He said that of the hundreds of fungi species that can infect people, the most common ones are not life-threatening.

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