Aspergillosis

Aspergillosis is an infection caused by different species of the fungus named aspergillus that manifest commonly as a lung infection but can involve the sinuses, eyes or even the central nervous system. The most common species of the aspergillus mold that cause infections are aspergillus: flavus, niger, terreus, nidulans and fumigates.

Where does it occur?

It occurs worldwide, the fungus is found readily in decaying piles of leaves, compost, stored grain and hay and animal dung.

How is it transmitted?

Humans commonly acquire the infection by breathing air containing spores of the fungus

Is it contagious from person to person?

No

What is the risk for travelers?

The risk is generally low

How soon after exposure will I develop symptoms?

Symptoms can occur anywhere from a few days to nearly 3 months after exposure

What are the signs and symptoms?

Symptoms vary according to the site of infection and the state of one’s immune system. The aspergillus spore can penetrate areas of scars in the lung resulting in cavities or “fungal balls.” These individuals have symptoms of chronic cough, bloody sputum, weight loss and fatigue.

Asthma patients can develop an allergy to the spores and have symptoms of persistent wheezing and shortness of breath.

Immunosuppressed patients (transplant/HIV/cancer/major burn) develop more serious infections resulting in severe pneumonia and invasion of the sinuses, brain, heart, kidney, bowels and skin with symptoms of high fever, cough, bloody sputum, chest pain, stroke, flank pain, perforation of the bowels and necrotic skin ulcers.

Rarely, one can see eye involvement with blindness following trauma to the eye or cataract surgery.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

The fungus can be cultured from body fluids and seen on biopsy of infected tissue. In asthma patients a high eosinophil count and aspergillus antibody tests may be helpful if suspicious of this illness

Is there any treatment?

Antibiotics like voriconazole, itraconazole, caspofungin and amphotericin are useful. In immunocompromised individuals with severe illness of the sinuses and brain surgical debridement is required in addition to antibiotic treatment. Individuals with cavities and ‘fungal ball’ may require surgery if bleeding is not controlled with antibiotics alone. Asthmatic patients may require steroids in addition to antibiotic therapy.

What preventive measures can be taken?

No specific measures are available, immunocompromised individuals should avoid dusty environments.

advice for your illness and travel
learn about an exotic disease