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What is Histoplasmosis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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Histoplasmosis is a lung infection caused by inhaling spores from the Histoplasma capsulatum fungus. It is also known as Darling's Disease, after a doctor who did a great deal of research on the condition. As the fungus grows in the lungs, it can cause a variety of symptoms which vary in severity depending on the health of the patient and the extent of the infection. Many cases of histoplasmosis clear up on their own, but there are some circumstances in which treatment is required. This type of infection is especially dangerous for someone with a compromised immune system, such as someone taking immunosuppressive drugs to prepare for organ transplant.

Spores from the fungus responsible for histoplasmosis are found in the excretions of birds and bats. People who work outdoors such as gardeners and construction workers are at increased risk of developing histoplasmosis, as are people who work in attics and other areas where bats might hide. People get infected when the airborne spores enter the warm, moist environment of the lungs, an area ideal for fungal cultivation. Within three to 17 days after exposure, histoplasmosis will appear.

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In acute or primary histoplasmosis, the patient can develop flu-like symptoms such as fatigue and headaches. A dry cough may be accompanied with a fever and chest pains. Not everyone develops symptoms, and not everyone seeks medical attention for histoplasmosis, as they may mistake the low-grade symptoms for signs of simple fatigue. Histoplasmosis can also become chronic, meaning that it has been present in the body for an extended period of time. Chronic histoplasmosis can be very dangerous, as the infection may cause long-term lung damage.

The most dangerous form of histoplasmosis is disseminated histoplasmosis, in which the infection travels to other parts of the body and starts infecting organs like the brain and heart. People with disseminated histoplasmosis can die from the condition, typically after developing painful ulcerations, secondary infections, and neurological problems.

People with suspected cases of histoplasmosis will typically be screened for the fungus with x-rays, blood samples, or sputum samples. Histoplasmosis is fully treatable. Antifungal medications can be used to kill the fungus, although the sooner such medications are given, the more effective they will be.

Wearing a face mask while performing tasks which might limit your exposure to histoplasmosis is a very good idea. People with compromised immune systems may already be in the habit of wearing facial protection to minimize exposure to potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi, in which case their risk of exposure is certainly reduced.

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