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Histoplasmosis

Definition

Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection that usually affects the lungs.

Lungs

lungs and bronchioles
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes    TOP

Histoplasmosis is caused by a specific fungus. People often become infected when they inhale the fungus. The fungus can become airborne in dust or debris during demolition projects. People can also come in contact with the fungus through contact with soil contaminated with bat or bird droppings.

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your chances of exposure to histoplasmosis:

  • Having a job that puts you in contact with bird or bat droppings, such as in an aviary
  • Being involved in activities that put you in contact with bird or bat droppings, such such as cave exploration
  • Keeping birds as pets
  • Living along river valleys
  • Living in Mississippi, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, or Tennessee
  • Living in eastern Canada, Mexico, Central or South America, parts of the Caribbean, southeast Asia, or Africa
  • Having recently traveled to a location where histoplasmosis is common

Not everyone who comes in contact with the fungus will develop an infection. Medical conditions that weaken your immune system, like HIV, cancer treatment, certain biologic therapies to treat joint and soft tissue diseases, or having an organ transplant can increase your chance of infection.

Symptoms    TOP

Histoplasmosis does not generally cause symptoms. Symptoms that may occur include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Chest pain
  • Achy muscles
  • Joint pain
  • Feelings of discomfort or uneasiness
  • Spitting out blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Abdominal fullness from an enlarged liver and spleen
  • Skin rashes
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Loss of vision

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your body fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Blood culture
  • Sputum culture
  • Skin testing
  • Urine antigen testing
  • Bone marrow tests

Pulmonary function tests and x-rays may be done to see how much your lungs have been affected.

Treatment    TOP

The immune system can often remove the fungus. People who do not have symptoms or those who have mild symptoms do not need treatment.

Antifungal medication may be needed if symptoms last for more than 1 month.

If you have a suppressed immune system, you may need life-long antifungal medication. The medication will help to prevent a recurrence of histoplasmosis.

Prevention    TOP

If you might be exposed to bird or bat droppings, wear a face mask.

If you have a weakened immune system, completely avoid:

  • Any areas where you may find bird and bat droppings
  • Creating or working with surface dust from soil
  • Cleaning, remodeling, or demolishing old buildings
  • Cleaning chicken coops
  • Exploring caves

RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
https://www.cdc.gov
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
https://www.niaid.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Lung Association
https://www.lung.ca

References:

Histoplasmosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/histoplasmosis. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed December 11, 2017.
Histoplasmosis. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/histoplasmosis. Updated November 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017.
Histoplasmosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115093/Histoplasmosis. Updated April 27, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2017.
Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 12/11/2017

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