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Fungal meningitis is a potentially deadly disease that primarily affects people with poor immune systems, such as those suffering from cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or other diseases. It will not spread from one person to another, unlike other forms of meningitis. It is contracted by inhaling spores from various fungi that are found in certain soils across the globe. There is not a vaccine available to prevent fungal meningitis, but if it is caught early, treatment is possible.
There are several different types of fungi that may cause fungal meningitis. For example, Cryptococcus, one of the leading yeasts that cause the disease, is found in areas where there is an abundance of fecal matter from birds, particularly in the soils of Africa. Histoplasma is also common where there are birds, but may also be found in areas, usually in the central portion of the United States, where there are bats. Other types of fungi that can cause meningitis include Blastomyces, which is found where there are decaying materials in the soil, and Coccidioides, a desert fungus that is found in the southwestern parts of the United States and sections of Mexico. Regardless of the fungus type, a person becomes infected when she walks in the soil, disturbs the spores, and inhales them.
The symptoms of fungal meningitis can progress slowly. Initial symptoms are minor and may include headaches and an upset stomach. As the disease progresses, the symptoms worsen and can include stiffness in the neck area and sensitivity to light. If left untreated, the person may hallucinate and become confused. Without the proper medication, brain damage and even death are common in many cases.
With fungal meningitis, the infection quickly moves through the blood stream and sets into the spinal cord. A spinal tap, where the fluid surrounding the spinal cord is extracted, may be done to test for the disease. It can also offer insight as to which of the many fungi caused the disease. In addition, blood work may be taken to further confirm the cause of the disease.
Antifungal drugs, such as Amphotericin B or fluconazole, may be prescribed to treat fungal meningitis. Usually people receive the drugs intravenously. In some cases, the drugs may be inserted directly into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. In rare cases, oral medications may be prescribed. Sometimes, a person affected by the disease may need to take the medication for an extended period of time, depending on the severity of the illness.