Fungus and how it interacts with the world around us is not a new field of study. There are certain fungi that have caused trouble for man for decades. Recent studies now show that one such fungus may have a connection to HIV. Where does it come from, and what are the effects? Here is a look at how the parasitic fungus known as Aspergillus flavus and the toxin it produces interfere with the fight against HIV. This volatile combination has the medical community on edge and researchers scrambling for more answers.

Tropical regions hovering around the earth’s equator have countless food warehouses harboring staples like rice. Unfortunately, some of these supplies have the aforementioned fungus growing on them. The toxin given off – known as aflatoxin – has been connected to an array of disorders. Cancer, liver damage and other complications have been studied and reported on. The role it plays on the infectious disease scene, however, may be the most disturbing effect of all. In one study, patients with HIV showed an increase in viral load after exposure to aflatoxin.

Theories and speculations point to the aflatoxin suppressing certain immune functions that enable the body to fight infections, like HIV. The result of this suppression is a lower immune cell count. Production of certain proteins used by the immune system can also be slowed by the aflatoxin produced by the tropical fungus. This means that the body’s means of defense against HIV are slowed. The result is an increased viral count. When this happens, there is an increased risk of transmission of the disease. Progression of the disease and AIDS is another real possibility in this scenario. Populations where HIV is prevalent and exposure to aflatoxin is high are at greatest risk.

These findings, while new, raise an array of serious questions. Discussions as to the safety of food and the regulation of such have ensued but will not likely go far until more evidence is available. To that end, researchers and scientists are looking deeper into the relationship between fungi, their waste products and infectious diseases, such as HIV.