First appearing on the Chinese media platform Pear Daily, the video article on the strange medical case reported that the patient went to the hospital after experiencing sharp pains in his chest. Healthcare providers diagnosed his lung infection and theorized that fungal spores present in his dirty socks could have led to his illness.
However, subsequent reports from local news sources could not provide essential details on the disease itself. For example, the reports identified the patient's name as "Peng," put his age at 37 years and identified him as a resident of Zhangzhou in China's Fujian province. But none of the news mentioned the specific type of fungus that led to his lung infection. (Related: Smelly feet? Try soaking them in an apple cider vinegar foot bath.)
William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University announced that it is technically feasible to contract a fungal infection by sniffing dirty socks that might contain spores from harmful fungi. However, he also noted that the chances of such a case were highly unlikely, based on his own considerable experience as a clinician.
Schaffner specializes in the study of infectious diseases. He was not in any way connected to the ongoing treatment of Peng but commented on the matter in the position of an interested observer.
In an interview, Schaffner noted that there were many documented cases of lung infections caused by breathing in large amounts of fungal spores. He went on to provide details on a pair of fungal diseases that got contracted in much the same way.
People who venture into caves and other areas that hosted bat populations run the risk of getting infected with histoplasmosis. The pathogenic spores responsible for the disease come from fungi growing on the droppings of the animals.
There is also San Joaquin Valley fever, a fungal infection with symptoms that resemble influenza. People catch this disease after inhaling spores from the Coccidioides fungus found throughout the western and southwestern United States.
"We don’t live in a sterile world, we're surrounded by bacteria and fungi all the time," Schaffner reminded his audience during an interview. "That doesn't mean we're definitely going to get sick, though."
Regarding the curious case of contracting an infection via lungfuls of fungal spores from dirty socks, Schaffner pointed out that the patient brought the source of the fungal spores right up to his nose daily. Peng also took many deep breaths, which meant he exposed himself to substantial doses of spores. Such a habit would have made anyone much more vulnerable to contracting an illness.
Schaffner also mentioned that a compromised immune system would increase the chances of a fungal infection taking place. In line with this observation, Chinese news reports stated that Peng suffered from that exact problem.
However, the reporters attributed Peng's weakened immune system to insufficient amounts of rest. Schaffner scoffed at this explanation since a shortage of rest was not going to be enough to bring down the natural defenses of the body.
Schaffner concluded that people should always thoroughly wash used socks and laundry as a health precaution. However, he also assured his listeners that it was safe to sniff a fresh sock once or twice to check its cleanliness before putting it on.