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Fungal Infections

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Deep Tissue, Blood, Lung and Systemic Fungal Infections

A variety of fungi can cause deep and systemic infections. Some are found throughout the U.S. while others are found in specific regions. People frequently become infected because they come in contact with the environment where a fungus grows, such as infected soil.

Lung infections typically start with the inhalation of fungal spores. With lung infections, and with fungal infections that have spread below the surface of the skin, the invading fungi have the potential to spread from the original infection location and move to the blood (septicemia) and/or spread throughout the body – into organs, tissues, bone, and sometimes into the meninges that cover the spinal cord, and into the brain, causing meningitis.

In many people with competent immune systems, fungal lung infections may cause only mild to moderate flu-like symptoms such as coughing, fever, muscle aches, headaches, and rashes. In other people, fungi may cause infections that remain localized at the initial site of the infection and do not spread (the organisms are walled off in granulomas). However, people with these localized infections may, at some point in their life, become immunocompromised and the long-standing, silent chronic fungal infection may then become an active acute infection.

Some infections caused by fungi may take months to years to cause symptoms, slowly and progressively growing worse and disseminating throughout the body, causing night sweats, chest pain, weight loss, and enlarged lymph nodes. Others may progress rapidly, causing pneumonia and/or septicemia. Fungal lung infections are more likely to be severe in people who have underlying lung disease and/or a compromised immune system such as those with HIV/AIDS. Both acute and chronic fungal infections can cause permanent lung, organ, and bone damage and can be fatal.

Common deep or systemic infections include:

  • Aspergillosis, caused by Aspergillus fumigatus or several other Aspergillus species. These fungi are commonly found in soil, plants, and house dust. They can cause fungal masses in the sinuses and lungs and, in some cases, can spread to the brain and bones.
  • Blastomycosis, caused by Blastomyces dermatitidis found in moist organic-rich soil, such as woodland areas of the south-eastern and south-central United States.
  • Coccidioidomycosis, also called Valley Fever, caused primarily by Coccidioides immitis found in arid soil of the southwestern U.S., Mexico, and South America.
  • Cryptococcosis, caused by Cryptococcus neoformans or rarely by another Cryptococcus species found in soil and are associated with bird droppings. Anyone may become infected, but the highest prevalence in the U.S. is in people who have HIV/AIDS. An emerging infection, Cryptococcus gatti, has been identified in the Pacific Northwest and is thought to pose a threat to individuals in that area.
  • Histoplasmosis, caused by Histoplasma capsulatum found primarily in the east and central U.S.; typically affects the lungs.
  • Candidiasis, caused by Candida species, which are part of the normal human flora, are found worldwide. Infections occur in the moist mucous membranes of the body.
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia, caused by Pneumocystis jiroveci (formerly known as Pneumocystis carinii), found worldwide and most commonly affecting those with compromised immune systems, including those with HIV/AIDS.

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