Fungi and Disease

Some Topics

Fungal Infections

As infecting parasites, fungi can be hostile to other living creatures-- plants and animals, large and small. Fungi produce disease in many different ways. The most obvious are skin infections that everyone develops. Surface infections of the scalp produce itching and scaling (dandruff) and are a life-long feature of most humans.

Some fungi exist in the environment and are able to cause an invasive infection in otherwise healthy individuals. Other fungi are opportunistic fungi that become invasive when immune defenses are compromised. Humans are hosts to resident species such as candida that are more a nuisance to people with normal immune systems, but become life threatening infectious agents when immune defense is compromised. More about Candida Infection

The endemic mycoses include histoplasmosis, blastomycosis, crytococcus, sporotrichosis, coccidioidomycosis, paracoccidioidomycosis, and penicilliosis. These organisms exist as molds in the environment and as either yeasts or spherules in tissues. Although all 6 diseases have common manifestations, each has itsdistinct characteristics. They infect the lungs, skin, and other organs.

Invasive fungal infections are more difficult to treat than bacterial infections and chronic infection is more likely. Mycosis are often treated with an azole antifungal drug such as itraconazole. Patients who are severely ill with CNS involvement are treated with amphotericin B, followed by an oral azole agent. Prolonged suppressive treatment with itraconazole twice daily maintains remission in 95% of immune compromised patients.

Histoplasma capsulatum infection is a world-wide problem that causes more severe infection in immunocompromised hosts. These fungi thrive in moist soil enriched by bird and bat droppings and infect human beings by an inhalation route.Aspergillus fumigatus is the most important airborne fungal pathogen causing life-threatening infections in hospitalized immunosuppressed patients.

See Blastomycosis.

Fungi Everywhere

A profusion of fungi exists in the environment. Some fungi are able to cause an invasive infection in otherwise healthy individuals. Other fungi are opportunistic fungi that become invasive when immune defenses are compromised. Diagnosis of fungal infection is difficult. There are many problems when you try to connect a test result to a disease. Fungi are so abundant and there are so many varieties in every environment that it is seldom easy to pick just one cause among many. Fungi are inhaled and ingested. Foods always contain fungal spores and actively growing molds. Attempts to culture fungi often fail; only a small number grow in the culture media commonly used. Some new methods of detecting fungal DNA may be useful but development of reliable tests is slow and expensive.

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