This week, I’ll be posting some “fun” snippets from bits of research devoted to my current novel project. Probably mostly of interest to people who homebrew, or are interested in yeast and brewing, brewing history, and weird cultural stuff that went on in Renaissance Europe or in Georgian England.
Today? Fungemia… which is: fungal infections of the blood. Don’t worry, I don’t have any gory pictures of anything, though if you want, there are plenty of those online, only one google search away.
Did you know, you can get a yeast infection in your blood?
Well, you can. And even some strains of humble brewer’s/baker’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisae, are capable of this kind of infection. The good news, of course, is that you’re pretty unlikely to develop it…
… unless you’re immunocompromised.
Which is to say, unless you have some other serious health issue, and your immune system is in trouble already, it seems unlikely you’ll get a fungal infection in your blood. It’s not impossible, but unlikely.
But if you are immunocompromised? Well, hell, then apparently depending on the strain you could even get it (under certain circumstances, like when you’re being put on a catheter) because someone in the next bed over was getting probiotic yeast treatments. (Here’s a paper dealing with some cases of this with S. boulardii, a wild yeast harvested first from lychee and mangosteens back in 1923.) That said, some strains of S. cerevisae (a large class of yeasts which includes brewer’s/baker’s yeast) are also associated with fungemia–some a highly virulent, and some apparently are avirulent, while S. boulardii is (interestingly) in-between the two extremes.
And you know, if you’re living in Georgian London, you have a whole host of ways to be immunocompromised, even though HIV hadn’t hit yet. I mean, lead water-pipes all over the place? The absence of all those modern medical conveniences (vaccines, antibiotics, ready treatment for illnesses) that most of us in the developed world take for granted, paired with all kinds of delibilitating illnesses? Occupational illnesses galore? (Silicosis in the lungs if you work with glass; blindness from falling sawdust for men working in sawpits; mercury poisoning among hatters and tanners…) Add in constant filth (like several large pits of dead bodies rotting within the city)? Shocking degrees of adulteration of food and potable beverages? (Turpentine added to distilled spirits for added kick and flavor, for one example.) And then there was the crushing stress of urban poverty that most Londoners lived under…
So, yeah. An opportunistic fungus of the right kind could really do a number on Georgian London, I figure.
Why do I care?
Well, for one thing, I briefly considered brewing (or, rather, making mead) with S. boulardii (since, being a tropical yeast, it is more heat-resistant than brewer’s yeast). I’m not so sure I want to, now, at least not without some kind of pasteurization, or treatment to kill all the yeast off.
But beyond that, I’m trying to get a handle on a peculiar form of yeast in the novel I’m working on. To say more would spoil things, so I’ll leave it at that.
More fun tomorrow!