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The Fungus Among Us

February 11, 1996

They will probably never make the bestseller list, nor star in films featuring Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Willis or monkeys.

Nonetheless, fungi -- the kingdom of organisms that includes molds and yeast -- have been quietly positioning themselves as the newest threat to human health, and epidemiologists are concerned.

Like their viral counterparts, some of these "emerging" fungi inhabit the natural world -- as spores in soil, say, or in caves or pigeon droppings -- and strike only when humans encroach too closely on them. Two years ago, after an earthquake in Northridge stirred up the soil, 203 people contracted valley fever, a respiratory infection caused by spores of the fungus Coccidioides immitis.

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