A new fungal species causing invasive aspergillosis in cats and humans

Dr Vanessa Barrs from the University of Sydney is lead author on a paper describing a new species of fungus that caused life-threatening invasive aspergillosis in cats, humans and a dog.1

According to Dr Barrs, the study originated from noticing an unusual fungal infection in three cats that she was seeing at the University’s cat treatment centre in 2006. The cats presented with a retrobulbar mass, caused by a fungal granuloma that had spread from the nasal cavity. All had a clinical history of nasal discharge or sneezing in the previous 6 months, and had no serious intercurrent diseases. They failed to respond to aggressive antifungal treatments, and most were euthanased because of disease progression.

The multinational team of authors confirmed this as a new species, Aspergillus felis, which can cause fatal disease in humans and cats by infecting their respiratory tract. The study reports on the identification of the fungus in 22 cats from Australia, human cases from Europe and Japan, and one dog. The dog and the human cases reported had all been in immunocompromised individuals.

The species was identified using morphological characterisation, as well as phylogeny and molecular identification. Similar to the closely related fungus Aspergillus fumigates, this new species of fungus can reproduce both asexually and sexually.

Fungi like Aspergillus felis can be easily misidentified as others that are closely related. Two of the human cases had been previously reported as being caused by A. viridinutans, which was re-classified. The authors note that examination of other A. viridinutans isolates worldwide may identify A. felis similar cases, as they cannot be distinguished morphologically, but differ only
in their maximum growth temperatures.

Identification is important in terms of the clinical disease pattern produced, and their relative resistance to antifungal agents.

Study of the disease in cats will not only help their treatment but provide a good model for the study of the disease in people.

Anne Jackson
Editor in Chief

1. Barrs VR, van Doorn TM, Houbraken J et al. 2013. Aspergillus felis sp. nov., an emerging agent of invasive aspergillosis in humans, cats, and dogs. PLoS ONE 8 (6): e64871; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064871 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0064871.

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