What is histoplasmosis?
Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat droppings. Histoplasmosis is most commonly transmitted when these spores become airborne, often during cleanup or demolition projects.
Soil contaminated by bird or bat droppings also can transmit histoplasmosis, so farmers and landscapers are at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
Most people with histoplasmosis never develop symptoms and aren’t aware they’re infected. But for some people — primarily infants and those with compromised immune systems — histoplasmosis can be serious. Effective treatments are available for even the most severe forms of histoplasmosis.
How common is histoplasmosis?
Histoplasmosis is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of histoplasmosis?
Several types of histoplasmosis exist. The mildest form produces no signs or symptoms, but severe infections can be life-threatening. When signs and symptoms do occur, they usually appear three to 17 days after exposure and may include:
- Muscle aches
- Dry cough
- Chest discomfort
In some people, histoplasmosis can also produce joint pain and a rash. People who have an underlying lung disease, such as emphysema, may develop a chronic form of histoplasmosis.
Symptoms of chronic histoplasmosis may include weight loss and a cough that brings up blood. The symptoms of chronic histoplasmosis sometimes can mimic those of tuberculosis.
The most severe variety of histoplasmosis occurs primarily in infants and in people with compromised immune systems. Called disseminated histoplasmosis, this variety can affect nearly any part of your body, including your mouth, liver, central nervous system, skin and adrenal glands. If untreated, disseminated histoplasmosis is usually fatal.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Contact your doctor if you develop flu-like symptoms after being exposed to bird or bat droppings, especially if you have a weakened immune system.
What causes histoplasmosis?
Histoplasmosis is caused by the reproductive cells (spores) of the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum. The spores are extremely light and float into the air when dirt or other contaminated material is disturbed.
Even if you’ve had histoplasmosis in the past, you can still get the infection again. However, if you contract histoplasmosis again, the illness will likely be milder than the initial infection.
The histoplasmosis fungus thrives in damp soil that’s rich in organic material, especially the droppings from birds and bats. For that reason, it’s particularly common in chicken and pigeon coops, old barns, caves and parks. Histoplasmosis isn’t contagious, so it can’t be spread from person to person.
What increases my risk for histoplasmosis?
The chances of developing histoplasmosis symptoms increase with the number of spores you inhale. Professions with a higher likelihood of spore exposure include:
- Pest control workers
- Poultry keepers
- Construction workers
- Landscapers and gardeners
- Cave explorers
Most at risk of severe infection: Very young children and older adults have weaker immune systems, so they’re more likely to develop disseminated histoplasmosis — the most serious form of the disease. Other factors that can weaken your immune system include:
- HIV or AIDS
- Intensive cancer chemotherapy
- Corticosteroid drugs, such as prednisone
- TNF inhibitors, often used to control rheumatoid arthritis
- Medications that prevent rejection of organ transplants
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is histoplasmosis diagnosed?
Diagnosing histoplasmosis can be complicated, depending on the area of the body affected. While testing is not usually necessary for mild cases of histoplasmosis, it can be crucial to help choose appropriate treatments in life-threatening cases.
Available tests for histoplasmosis have limitations. For example, it can take up to six weeks to get results from some tests. Your doctor may suggest a combination approach to search for evidence of the disease in samples of:
- Lung secretions
- Blood or urine
- Biopsied lung tissue
- Bone marrow
Researchers are working on developing better tools to diagnose histoplasmosis.
How is histoplasmosis treated?
Treatment usually isn’t necessary if you have a mild case of histoplasmosis. But if your symptoms are severe or if you have the chronic or disseminated forms of the disease, you’ll likely need treatment with one or more antifungal drugs. Some of these medications come in pill form, but the strongest varieties are administered intravenously.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage histoplasmosis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with histoplasmosis:
- Avoid exposure. If your immune system is compromised, avoid renovation projects that might expose you to contaminated soil. Likewise, cave exploring and raising birds — such as pigeons or chickens — aren’t advised.
- Spray contaminated soil. Before you work in or dig soil that’s likely to harbor the fungus that causes histoplasmosis, spray it thoroughly with water. This can help prevent spores from being released into the air. Spraying chicken coops and barns before cleaning them also can reduce your risk.
- Use an effective face mask. One of the best ways to protect yourself from soil-borne organisms is to wear a respirator mask. Consult the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to determine which type of mask will provide adequate protection for your level of exposure.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: June 16, 2017 | Last Modified: December 13, 2019
- histoplasmosis. https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/histoplasmosis/. Accessed 10 Jan 2017
- histoplasmosis. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/histoplasmosis/basics/definition/con-20026585. Accessed 10 Jan 2017