NCEZID: Waterborne and Fungal Infections

Water is essential for life but can also lead to illness when it is contaminated by disease-causing organisms. Examples of waterborne disease include:

  • Cholera, a severe diarrheal disease, often caused by drinking Vibrio cholerae-contaminated water.
  • An infection called microbial keratitis, which can occur when germs invade the eye. These germs can be associated with improper use and care of contact lenses.
  • Cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, and other gastrointestinal diseases caused by swallowing contaminated water.
  • An infection caused by the rare but often fatal brain-eating ameba (Naegleria fowleri) that can occur when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places like lakes and rivers, and contaminated water enters through the nose.

Fungal diseases are a concern in the medical and public health community for several reasons. Increasing numbers of people with weakened immune systems (like cancer patients and organ transplant recipients) are especially vulnerable to fungal infections. Changes in healthcare practices provide opportunities for new and drug-resistant fungi to emerge in healthcare settings. Other fungal diseases, like valley fever, are caused by fungi that live in soil.

What we’re doing:

NCEZID has world-class scientists who are experts in the fields of preventing and controlling waterborne and fungal diseases. Recent accomplishments include:

  • Tested more than 150 clinical samples in the US for free-living amebas, including Naegleria fowleri, the “brain-eating” ameba.
  • Launched CryptoNet, the first system that uses molecular fingerprints for tracking a parasite. Cryptosporidium is a major cause of US waterborne disease outbreaks.
  • Released the 2nd edition of the Model Aquatic Health Code to help state and local health departments prevent drowning, injuries, and the spread of recreational water illnesses at public swimming pools and spas.
  • Provided epidemiological field support to ministries of health in multiple countries to prevent and control outbreaks of cholera and typhoid.
  • Helped conduct fungal disease outbreak investigations, including mucormycosis outbreaks in Kansas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Mucormycosis typically affects people with weakened immune
    systems, such as people who have had an organ transplant.
  • Applied new laboratory tools to detect valley fever (coccidioidomycosis) in the environment and used whole genome sequencing to understand the emergence of this fungus in new geographic areas.
  • Investigating new cases of Candida auris infections, an emerging drug-resistant fungus that can spread through healthcare settings and cause serious and sometimes deadly bloodstream infections that have limited treatment options.