Fungicides for crops: Worrying link to fungal drug resistance in UK warns scientists

July 14, 2014

Crop spraying on British farms could be aiding a life-threatening fungus suffered by tens of thousand of people in the UK each year.

New research by British and Dutch scientists has found that Aspergillus – a common fungus that attacks the lungs and is found in soil and other – has become resistant to life - saving drugs in parts of rural Yorkshire.

It's the first time a link has been made in the UK between in Aspergillus and fungicide used on crops. Experts warn their findings, now published, are significant and raise serious implications for , those with leukaemia and people who suffer from .

In the three-year study, researchers from The University of Manchester and Radboud University, in the Netherlands, compared profiles in 230 fungal samples, collected from rural areas in West Yorkshire which were treated with fungicides, to 290 air and soil samples from inner city sites across Greater Manchester.

They found no resistance from the sites in Greater Manchester compared to 1.7% resistance detected in West Yorkshire, implicating fungicide use in agriculture.

Dr Michael Bromley, Lecturer at The University of Manchester and study leader commented: "Given the frequent finding of resistance across northern Europe, it is not a surprise to see resistance in the UK. However, the clear association with triazole fungicide usage is very worrisome, as some unlucky people at risk will breathe in untreatable Aspergillus, with potentially dire consequences."

Diseases caused by Aspergillus affect millions of people worldwide, causing high morbidity and mortality. The only oral antifungal agents (triazoles) for human use are similar in structure to certain fungicides. The use of certain compounds in agriculture, notably difenoconazole, propiconazole, epoxiconazole, bromuconazole and tebuconazol are particularly likely to lead to resistance, yet are freely used in agriculture. There is a very limited range of antifungal compounds to treat fungal diseases, and some fungi are multi-resistant.

The emerging antifungal resistance in human pathogenic fungi is causing a huge threat to patients, especially to those with weaken immune systems and this study emphasises that there may be even a greater problem in treating such diseases. Previously such resistance has been observed in a few other countries (Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, France, India, China, Iran, Tanzania and a few others) raising great concerns among clinicians. No new classes of antifungal agent are currently in clinical development.

These findings come as the Government has announced of a review of the economics of antimicrobial research. However, experts believe current practice across both health and veterinary services is failing to prevent the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics. The Science and Technology Committee has warned that the Government needs to set clear responsibilities at all levels of the NHS and veterinary medicine to achieve better stewardship of the antimicrobial drugs vital in modern medicine.

Explore further: Intensive fungicide use may lead to azole resistance in humans

More information: * The findings are published by the International Society for Chemotherapy of Infection and Cancer as Bromley MJ, et al. Occurrence of azole-resistant species of Aspergillus in the UK environment in the Journal of Global Antimicrobial Resistance (2014).

Related Stories

Drug-resistance fears for deadly fungal disease

May 5, 2011

Deadly human fungal infections caused by certain strains of Aspergillus fungi appear to be developing resistance to current drug treatments at an alarming rate, say scientists.

Recommended for you

Zika virus may persist in the vagina days after infection

August 25, 2016

The Zika virus reproduces in the vaginal tissue of pregnant mice several days after infection, according to a study by Yale researchers. From the genitals, the virus spreads and infects the fetal brain, impairing fetal development. ...

In sub-Saharan Africa, cancer can be an infectious disease

August 26, 2016

In 1963, Irish surgeon Denis Parson Burkitt airmailed samples of an unusual jaw tumor found in Ugandan children to his colleague, Anthony Epstein, at Middlesex Hospital in London. Epstein, an expert in chicken viruses and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.