Fungal Infections

Definition

Fungal infections, also known as mycoses, are infections of the body's tissue due to the invasion of one or more species of fungi.

Demographics

People with compromised immune systems, such as those individuals with HIV/AIDS, people receiving cancer treatment, and transplant patients who are taking immunosuppressant drugs are more likely to develop fungal infections, and the infections are more likely to spread and cause more serious complications than in healthy individuals.

Description




Fungus infection on a man's toenails.





Fungus infection on a man's toenails.

Fungi release spores, which then grow on surfaces, in soil, or can be found in the air. Fungi are very contagious, meaning they are easily spread from person to person. When a person inhales fungal spores, or encounters the spores by walking on or touching infected surfaces, the spores are transferred to the person. In the right conditions, the fungi continue to grow and reproduce, causing a fungal infection.

Many fungal infections are a nuisance but cause no serious health threat. If a person has good health and seeks medical treatment in a timely manner, most fungal infections can be quickly and easily treated. Fungal infections can develop at four levels: superficial (on the surface), cutaneous (relating to the skin), subcutaneous (under the skin), and systemic/deep (throughout the body).

Causes and symptoms

Each type of fungus causes a different type of fungal infection. The most common types of infections are superficial or cutaneous. The symptoms associated with fungal infections depend on the type of infection. A few of the most common types of fungal infections include:

Other, more serious, fungal infections may be carried by the blood and affect other parts of the body such as the lungs. Sometimes, a relatively harmless infection that is not properly treated can spread to deeper parts of the body. These infections may cause permanent damage and in some cases be fatal.

Treatment

A physician can usually tell what type of fungal infection a person has by looking at the infection site. Other times, a skin scraping or nail or hair clipping will be sent to a laboratory for testing. In rare cases, antibody/antigen testing or imagining may be done.

KEY TERMS
Cutaneous—
Located in the skin.
Immunocompromised—
Having a damaged immune system.
Spore—
The small, thick-walled reproductive structure of a fungus.
Thrush—
A yeast infection of the mouth characterized by white patches on the inside of the mouth and cheeks.

Prognosis

Fungal infections are quite common, and most infections go away after treatment. Some people are more prone to certain fungal infections than others, and the infection will return time after time. These people often have a compromised immune system.

More serious types of fungal infections, which have infected the lungs or gotten into the blood stream, may cause complications, permanent damage, or be fatal. Mortality for immunocompromised patients with a fungal lung infection is over 50%. This percentage is even higher in patients with AIDS (70%) and in transplant patients (50–85%, depending on the type of infection). One type of fungal lung infection, disseminated histoplasmosis has a mortality rate of 80% if untreated and 25% with treatment.

Prevention

The best prevention against fungal infections is good hygiene. Fungi like to grow in warm and moist areas, such as public showers and locker rooms. Taking precautions in these spaces, such as wearing sandals while bathing, can decrease the likelihood of exposure. Keeping the feet and groin area clean and dry will also reduce the chance of infection. Because fungal infections spread easily, people who have a fungal infection should not share clothing or personal items with others. Also, when treating a fungal infection, it is important to follow the physician's instructions exactly, including using the medication completely and as recommended. This will reduce the chance of the fungal infection returning.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR

People with compromised immune systems may be routinely treated with anti-fungal drugs in order to lower the likelihood of infection. These people should also be careful when performing activities that may expose them to harmful fungi, such as gardening, cleaning, and being around infected people.

See also Fungicide .

Resources

BOOKS

Richardson, Malcolm D. and David W. Warnock. Fungal Infection: Diagnosis and Management. 4th ed. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

WEBSITES

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. “Fungal Infections: Preventing Recurrence.” http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/fungus_preventing.html (accessed October 17, 2012).

KidsHealth. “Fungal Infections.” http://kidshealth.org/kid/health_problems/skin/fungus.html# (accessed October 17, 2012).

MedlinePlus. “Fungal Infections.” http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/fungalinfections.html#cat1 (accessed October 17, 2012).

ORGANIZATIONS

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Office of Communications and Government Relations, 6610 Rockledge Drive, MSC 6612, Bethesda, MD, 208926612, (301) 496-5717, (866) 284-4107 or TDD: (800)877-8339, Fax: (301) 402-3573, ocpostoffice@niaid.nih.gov, http://www.niaid.nih.gov .

http://www.niams.nih.gov .

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA, 30333, (404) 639-3534, (800) CDC-INFO (800-232-4636); TTY: (888) 232-6348, inquiry@cdc.gov, http://www.cdc.gov .

Tish Davidson, AM

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.