What is histoplasmosis?

Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by a fungus. It usually affects the lungs, but in more serious cases it affects other parts of the body as well.

What is the cause?

You can get histoplasmosis by breathing the fungus into your lungs. The fungus is most common in the eastern United States, particularly in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. The fungus is often spread by bird or bat droppings. You may be exposed to the fungus when you breathe dusty or dirty air, such as when you are:

  • Remodeling or tearing down buildings
  • Cleaning chicken coops
  • Cutting trees
  • Going into caves
  • Working under bridges or along streams

Histoplasmosis is not spread from person to person.

What are the symptoms?

Many times the symptoms of the infection are so mild that you don’t even know you have it. If you do have symptoms, they may be like the symptoms you get when you have a cold or flu. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • A dry cough
  • Chest pain when you take a breath

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tell your provider if you have lived, visited, or recently worked in areas where histoplasmosis is common. Tests may include:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Sputum culture, which is a test of a sample of mucus coughed up from deep in your lungs

How is it treated?

Most of the time no treatment is needed because your body can fight the infection without any help. You may feel sick for a couple of weeks and then get better without any long-term problems.

Histoplasmosis can be a serious disease if your immune system isn’t working well. For example, if you have AIDS, take high doses of steroids for a medical problem, or are being treated for cancer. The immune system is your body’s defense against infection. If your immune system isn’t strong, histoplasmosis may cause pneumonia or spread from the lungs to the brain, stomach, intestines, skin, or adrenal glands.

If the infection is severe or your immune system isn’t strong, your healthcare provider will prescribe an antifungal medicine. You may be treated first with IV medicine and then switched to capsules you take by mouth. You may need treatment for days, weeks, or months.

What can I do to help prevent histoplasmosis?

If you live in an area where histoplasmosis is common, you can help prevent infection by wearing a mask or respirator when you work in a dirty or dusty area. If your immune system is weak, it is very important to try to avoid places where you might be exposed to the fungus and to wear a mask when you risk exposure.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-07-09
Last reviewed: 2014-07-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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