About Lung Fungus Infections
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What is a Lung Fungus Infection?

Fungal infections represent the invasion of tissues by one or more species of fungi. They range from
superficial, localized skin conditions to deeper tissue infections to serious lung, blood (septicemia) or
systemic diseases. Some fungi are opportunistic while others are pathogenic, causing disease whether
the immune system is healthy or not.

Fungi are one of four major groups of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi). They that
exist in nature in one of two forms: as unicellular yeasts or as branching filamentous molds (also may be
spelled as "moulds"). Some fungi are dimorphic - they change from one form to another depending on
their environment. While yeasts cannot be seen with the naked eye, molds can be seen as the fuzzy
splotches on overripe fruit or stale bread, as mildew in the bathroom shower, and as mushrooms
growing on a rotted log. There are more than 50,000 species of fungi in the environment, but less than
200 species are associated with human disease. Of these, only about 20 to 25 species are common
causes of infection.

Most fungal infections occur because a person is exposed to a source of fungi such as spores on
surfaces or in the air, soil, or bird droppings. Usually, there is a break or deficiency in the body’s immune
system defenses and/or the person provides the “right environment” for the fungi to grow. Anyone can
have a fungal infection, but certain populations are at an increased risk of fungal infections and
recurrence of infections. These include organ transplant recipients, people who have HIV/AIDS, those
who are on chemotherapy or immune suppressants, and those who have an underlying condition such
as diabetes or lung disease.

Infections involving fungi may occur on the surface of the skin, in skin folds, and in other areas kept warm
and moist by clothing and shoes. They may occur at the site of an injury, in mucous membranes, the
sinuses, and the lungs. Fungal infections trigger the body’s immune system, can cause inflammation
and tissue damage, and in some people may trigger an allergic reaction.

Many infections remain confined to a small area, such as between the toes, but others may spread over
the skin and/or penetrate into deeper tissues. Those that progress and those that start in the lungs may
move into the blood and be carried throughout the body. Some fungal infections may resolve on their
own, but most require medical attention and may need to be treated for extended periods of time. Those
that penetrate into the body typically increase in severity over time and, if left untreated, may cause
permanent damage and in some cases eventually be fatal. A few fungal infections may be easily passed
on to other people, while others typically only affect the infected person.

Fungal infections may be categorized by the part of the body that they affect, by how deeply they penetrate
the body, by the organism causing the infection, and by the form(s) that the fungi take. Some organisms
may cause both superficial and systemic 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 disseminate 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.

In many patients 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
patients, 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 compromised immune systems 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.
  • Coccidiomycosis, 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.
  • 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 jorveci (formerly known as Pneumocystis
    carinii), found worldwide and most commonly affecting those with compromised immune
    systems, including those with HIV/AIDS.

Western Medicine Treatment

Some fungal infections are caused by normal flora and by fungi that are present throughout the
environment; therefore, not every fungal infection can be prevented and some of them may recur after
treatment.

Many superficial fungal infections will resolve with only a topical antifungal treatment, but some cases
may require oral antifungal therapy. People with serious lung and systemic fungal infections will require
oral and sometimes intravenous medications. The choice of which antifungals to use is based upon the
doctor’s experience, on the results of the fungal culture, and on the results of susceptibility testing, if it is
performed.

Treatment length varies by type, location, and persistence of infection. Vaginal yeast infections, for
instance, may require only a few days of therapy to resolve, while fungal skin infections may take a
couple of months. Systemic infections may require consistent treatment for a couple of years in order to
resolve and, in some cases, people with suppressed immune systems may need to be treated with a
maintenance therapy for the rest of their lives. Occasionally, surgery may be necessary to remove fungal
masses.

Adopted from labtestonline.com
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