The common notion about fungus is that they are something that smells or looks disgusting.
But ask David Perlin, executive director of the Public Health Research Institute at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and the response will be far more somber- because he knows how deadly fungi can be.
"More than a million people around the world are blind because of fungal infections of the eye," Perlin points out, "and half of the world's 350,000 asthma-related deaths each year stem from fungal infection that could be treated effectively with drugs."
In addition, fungal infections can complicate the recoveries of organ recipients. They also are the stuff of vaginal yeast infections, which strike nearly three quarters of American women at least once in their lifetimes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fungi are neither bacteria nor viruses. Their biology is different from both, with a cell nucleus and other internal structures that distinguish them from their infectious distant cousins.
But as Perlin is eager to tell anyone who will listen, they are just as big a threat to life and health.
The research said that while people know well what a bacterium or a virus can do, we need to start thinking of fungi in the same terms, and part of that is becoming more aware that fungi are all around us in the environment.
As he works in his lab on Rutgers' health sciences campus in Newark to unlock the many mysteries of fungal infection, Perlin is also trying passionately to improve the world's often disorganized approach to dealing with this deadly problem.