Mound rot (ARV parqafta; lit: Mound Rot) is an advanced disease that typically presents as a severe fungal infection of a patient's foot. Untreated, it leads to severe disfigurement and lifelong disability in most cases involving otherwise healthy patients, and is nearly universally fatal among those with weak or compromised immune systems.
Transmission & Vectors
Also known as "mound foot," the condition gets its name from a bit of folk wisdom that, onstensibly, is supposed to help one avoid the debilitating disease: namely, that one should steer clear of termite mounds in the Shār. It was widely believed—and remains to be so—that the disease is contracted when an individual steps into or nearby a termite mound. Folk wisdom suggests that the termites, agitated by the unwelcome intruder, attack by laying eggs into exposed wounds or open sores in the feet and legs whereupon the larvae hatch and devour the flesh. While the advice is sound, and indeed effective in avoiding infection, it is not perfect. Recent study of the disease suggests that while individuals are more likely to contract mound rot in and around termite mounds, it is not impossible to contract the disease from elsewhere. In fact, a regional survey conducted by the Qesrir chapter of the Al Zeresh Academy has found that in as many as 1 of every 10 cases, the patients have vehemently denied being in the proximity of a termite mound at any point prior to the infection, or have had circumstances to make such proximity highly unlikely. The same study found that in most cases of mound rot, a common pattern of behavior emerged. In as many as 9 out of 10 cases, the patients self-reported a tendency to wear open-toed sandals or go barefoot in the vicinity of the Shār, lending credence to the theory that mound rot is transmitted through a soil-borne pathogen.
Hiy Asara, a student at the Qesrir Student Research Clinic discovered in 342.30 NL that mound rot was most likely caused by a hitherto-undocumented species of fungus in the genus Tarkulam. One of the most notorious genera of parasitic fungus in the Shār, species belonging to the genus Tarkulam are more commonly known as "flesh-eating" fungi. Members of the genus exhibit a life cycle that involves infecting living animals through wounds or mucous membranes, proliferating while extracting nutrients from infected creatures, and fruiting upon the infected creatures' deaths to begin the cycle anew. Named after the disease it causes, T. qaftans is not the first member of the genus Tarkulam known to infect humans. However, it is the first member of the genus to demonstrate the ability to infect a primary host species—in this case, the honeydew ant Anatiin sabea—and a secondary species, humans.
Hosts & Carriers
T. qaftans' preferred host is the honeydew ant, Anatiin sabea, which mostly inhabits wooded shrubs in the jungle understory. Under normal circumstances, it is largely benign. While T. qaftans spores are hardy enough to survive in the soil for at least 10 years without a host, they do not spread as easily. When an honeydew ant colony is infested by T. qaftans, the infestation is largely localized. T. qaftans spreads primarily when an honeydew ant colony gets too big and splits or when the colony moves from one nest to the next. Problems occur when Binazula hisajah, the greater Sharan termite, gets involved. Though the greater Sharan termite is fungivorous, it is known to attack honeydew ant colonies in order to capture worker ants who store sugary "honeydew" in their crops. This "honeydew" is then used in the greater Sharan termite's fungal gardens to encourage the growth of Binazulda azizha, the blue thread mushroom, which serves as an important food source for the greater Sharan termite. When an infected honeydew ant is taken into the fungal garden, however, sooner or later the T. qaftans in its body fruits and spreads its spores. The greater Sharan termite, which takes great care to keep its fungal gardens clean, removes the ant corpse, the fruiting body, and the spores, depositing them outside the mound. For this reason, the area around greater Sharan termite mounds has a much higher concentration of T. qaftans spores than anywhere else, leading to the misapprehension that the mounds themselves were the cause of the disease.