Opinion |  'The Last of Us' Right.  Our Warming Planet Is A Petri Dish.

Paradoxically, so is drought. In the American Southwest, long rainless periods have dried up the earth, causing dust storms. Cases reported from valley fevera rare respiratory disease caused by soil-borne fungal spores soared almost tenfold since 1998; the fungus has also spread to new areas, including Washington State.

A warming planet is also creating more vulnerabilities in humans. Reduced crop yields, for example, cause malnutritionwhile heat stress causes Kidney illness. At the same time, deforestationinadequate safety measures on plantations and commercial wildlife trade increases the risk of what's called spillover, where viruses like Ebola jump from animals to people. Mushrooms, nature's most intelligent opportunists, will use this distraction to their advantage. We saw this in the 1980s when yeast infections spiked along with HIV, the virus that emerged from excess. We also saw it recently when it was unique fungal disease affecting thousands of people in India who have received immune-suppressing steroids as part of their treatment for Covid-19.

Last October, the World Health Organization make a list of the “fungal priority pathogen” for the first time. “Fungal pathogens represent a major threat to public health,” the group said write. It's an important symbolic gesture, but it doesn't give doctors what they need: better tools to fight this infection. There is no approved vaccine. Globally, many countries do not have the capacity to diagnose certain common fungal diseases. Even in New York City, where I treat patients, it can take weeks for some people to receive a yeast infection diagnosis. Even worse, many fungal pathogens are already resistant to the few available antifungal drugs.

In part, this is a technical challenge: It's difficult to develop an antifungal that doesn't also damage our cells. But we can't develop a cure if we don't try — and right now, the result of mushroom research is abysmal. For example, cryptococcal meningitis, a fungal infection, kills more people than bacterial meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis, but the latter receives more than three times as much research funding.

Fungal pathogens haven't yet been on the radar of government funders – they're just accepting 1.5 percent of all research funding for infectious disease research. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to invest in research and development, because their profit potential is limited.