Fungicides for crops: Worrying link to fungal drug resistance in UK, warns scientists
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 organic matter — has become resistant to life — saving drugs in parts of rural Yorkshire.
Although the link has been made before in the Netherlands, it’s the first time its been made in the UK between drug resistance in Aspergillus and fungicides used on crops. Experts warn their findings, now published, are significant and raise serious implications for transplant patients, those with leukemia and people who suffer from severe asthma.
In the three-year study, researchers from Radboud University Medical Centre and The University of Manchester compared resistance 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. Guus van Muijlwijk, of the Department of Medical Microbiology at Radboud University is a final year medical student who contributed to the research during an exchange visit to Manchester.
He believes merging 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.
He explained: “Previously, such resistance has been observed in a few other countries -Denmark, Belgium, Germany, France, India, China, Iran, Tanzania and here at home in the Netherlands — and it is raising great concerns among clinicians as no new classes of antifungal agent are currently in clinical development. “
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.