Environmental fungal exposure and human health


Coordinator: Esther Segal


João Brandão

Jean-Pierre Gangneux


Previous reports



The sand project is an ECMM/EFISG multinational project involving 23 participants from 15 different countries, with laboratories differing possibly in the availability of means for identification of the sand/water microbiota, such as use of molecular or MALDI-TOF methodology.

Fungi are an under-investigated biological group which is not represented in the regulation of recreational water anywhere. However, invasive fungal infections are associated with a high rate of mortality and other ailments. For example, many Candida species are opportunistic pathogens. They are known fecal contaminants that tend to cause mucosal infections of individuals that are susceptible due to underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or immune suppression. Babies and toddlers with their immune systems still immature, represent another at risk group.

Fungal genera that have been isolated from beach sands include Aspergillus, Chrysosporium, Fusarium, Scedosporium, Scytalidium, Scopulariopsis, Candida (3 Penicillium, Rhodotorula , Cladosporium, Mucor, Stachybotrys,  Phialemonium and many others. Trichophyton and Microsporum, associated with skin and nail infections, have also been reported for beach sand .


This project aims raising the awareness to fungal contaminants of sand by:

  • concentrating on the isolation and identification of the fungal flora in sand and water
  • emphasizing implications of findings on human health and wellbeing.


Most groups working in beach safety microbial indicators have one aim only: to avoid run-off and tide retraction contamination of recreational waters by whatever may lie in the sand (specifically, fecal indicator bacteria, the current parameters used in recreational water quality regulation due to their strong correlation with waterborne gastro-intestinal illness).

This project will help generate data to show the importance of the beach as an exposure means to fungal flora.


1. Culture, quantification and identification of colonies by:

  • Classical methods
  • Biochemical - spectroscopic methods (MALDI-TOF)
  • Molecular methods - depending on each laboratory’s internal procedure (inter-calibrated by a ring test)

2. Fungal Parameters:

  • Dermatophytes – indicators of human/animal dermal contamination (including the Arthroderma insingulare complex, formerly known as Trichophyton terrestre)
  • Candida albicans –indicator of human fecal contamination
  • Allergenic fungi – Aspergillus, Penicilium

Expected Results:

1. Generating data that will help set the fungal contaminants in the map of public health assessment of recreational water environments (inland and coastal beaches).

2. Aggregate a group with interest in this theme and consolidate the cooperation on the subject.

3. Characterization of natural diversity amongst areas included in the study.

Study timeline:

Duration: of the exploratory stage one year (tests will be carried out during all 4 seasons) starting during the bathing season of 2018 of each location (flexible starting dates for each participant).

Continuation will follow the analysis of the obtained data