The deadly Cryptococcus gatti fungus
The deadly Cryptococcus gatti fungus. Photo by Reuters
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Microbiologists in Israel are preparing for the potential arrival of tourists infected with a lethal fungus, which caused several deaths in the United States and whose source has been linked to an Israeli laboratory in a U.S. report.

The airborne fungus called Cryptococcus gatti has sparked panic worldwide since it was the cause of several deaths on the United States'  West Coast.

The death rate from the fungus has recently tripled and it continues to spread to other states, in particular to Washington, Oregon and California.

There have been isolated incidents of tourists who transferred the deadly fungus to countries in Europe, such as Holland, Germany, and Denmark.

In Israel's microbiology labs, scientists are preparing to find ways to quickly detect the fungus in case infected individuals arrive in Israel.

As panic ensued due to the potential lethal scope of the fungus, last week an American journalist presented a theory that linked Israel to the spread of the fungus.

According to the report, the source of the fungus was in labs where the fungus was being researched in the United States, as well as in the Nes Tziona Biological Institute in Israel.

The report also linked an Israeli American scientist, Dr. Joseph Moshe, to the spread of the fungus.

Moshe was in the media spotlight last year when he was arrested in California last summer for threatening White House officials, after engaging in a police car chase. According to the U.S. media, Moshe researched the fungus in a California lab before his arrest.

Professor Yitzhak Polacheck, Head of the Clinical Mycology laboratory in Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem in Jerusalem, discounted the report.

"The theory is completely baseless since the fungus is being currently researched in dozens of research laboratories worldwide." The Nes Tziona Biological Institute did not respond to the media reports in the United States.

Polacheck said that the fungus may reach Israel through infected tourists, but emphasized that scientists are well equipped and prepared for such occasion.

"If signs will indicate that the fungus exists in Israel, I believe we will be able to quickly and efficiently identify it so we could provide the best possible treatment," said Polacheck.