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Deep Tissue, Blood, Lung and Systemic Fungal Infections

A variety of fungi can cause deep and systemic infections. 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 (septicaemia) 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 localised at the initial site of the infection and do not spread (the organisms are walled off in granulomas). However, people with these localised 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 septicaemia. 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 rare cases, can spread to the brain and bones.
  • 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.
  • Cryptococcosis, caused by Cryptococcus neoformans or Cryptococcus gatti. Cryptococcus can be found in the soil, and C. gatti has been found in association with Eucalyptus trees. Anyone may become infected, but the highest prevalence immunosuppressed people.
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia, caused by Pneumocystis jirovecii (formerly known as Pneumocystis carinii), is found throughout the enviroment worldwide. However, it only causes significant infection in those with compromised immune systems, such as patients with HIV/AIDS or those undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplantation.
  • Histoplasmosis, caused by Histoplasma capsulatum is a rare disease in Australia and most cases have been associated with visiting bat caves. It typically affects the lungs.
  • Blastomycosis, caused by Blastomyces dermatitidis and Coccidiomycosis, caused primarily by Coccidioides immitis cannot be acquired in Australia, but may occur in people who have travelled to regions of North America where these fungi are found.

Last Review Date: November 27, 2018