Fungus Infection

Except for the causative agent, infections caused by fungi differ little from bacterial disorders. Botanically, the fungi present peculiarities of life cycle that challenge the investigator.

Actinomycosis is a noncontagious infection produced by an organism normally resident in the mouth. This fungus also causes the so called “lumpy jaw” of cattle. A painful hard swelling results in humans, and can appear in the lower jaw, resembling the pain of a tooth extraction or fracture.

The afflicted patient will then notice fever, cough, and eventually drainage. “Sulfur granules” appear in the pus draining from the lesion; these are especially evident if the pus is diluted with saline solution and filtered through gauze. Surgical drainage is helpful as an adjunct to specific therapy.

Cryptococcosis is a pulmonary infection caused by a yeast organism. It is occurring with increased frequency in patients with leukemia. At times it progresses to meningitis with visual disturbance, severe headache, vomiting, and even convulsions. Scientists are looking for safer treatments in this serious illness, which is fatal in many cases and difficult to diagnose.

Blastomycosis is a fungus infection of the skin and internal organs. It occurs in both North and South America and appears to enter the body via the lung. Dissemination to skin and bones may occur. The regional lymph glands and spleen are often enlarged. Although at times resembling tuberculosis of the lung, a skin test is available to aid in diagnosis. This condition can be cured if treatment is begun promptly.

Coccidioidomycosis is an infection acquired by the inhalation of a fungus. Most infections occur during the dry seasons, particularly after exposure to dust storms. The semi-arid region of the southwestern United States is a common location for this disease, often termed “desert” or “valley fever.”

The most frequent complaint is chest pain aggravated by breathing or coughing. Fluid accumulation in the lungs with x-ray changes is usually seen. A skin test is available for diagnosis, as well as confirmatory blood tests. Relief of stress, with increased rest, and in serious cases, specific antifungal agents may be needed to effect a cure.

Histoplasmosis is the eastern counterpart of “Cocci” found in the Mississippi River valley and the eastern United States. This fungus occurs in soil where bats, birds, and chickens inhabit the area. At times this illness is called “cave fever.” City dwellers are also exposed, where starlings’ or black bird’ s droppings collect.

Signs and symptoms range from slight, self-limited infections to fatal disseminated disease. The skin test is very helpful in confirming the diagnosis. Lesions in the lung resemble tuberculosis in most respects. Cough is common. At times ulcers in the mouth, tongue, pharynx, or larynx can be seen. For the more serious cases, specific therapy is important, as the disease can be fatal.

Sporotrichosis, another chronic infection is characterized by the formation of nodules, which drain a material resembling pus. These occur along the lymphatic vessel of the skin and underlying tissues. The first contact usually develops from the prick of a thorn, while the victim is working with plants.

Rarely dissemination to the lungs, bones, or joints may be seen. The organism can be cultured. Treatment with potassium iodide drops is usually curative, except in the most disseminated forms.

Moniliasis is a common infection of the mucous membrane and skin, due to Candida albicans. At times in debilitated patients the fungus can cause widespread infection in the blood and internal organs. More commonly, it occurs as a diaper rash in babies, in the mouth as “thrush,” and in diabetics usually in the skin or female organs.

Vaginitis is very common, particularly with the increased wearing of nylon undergarments, panty hose, and the more widespread use of oral contraceptives. Oral suspensions or tablets of nystatin can be used in the mouth and antifungal tablets or vinegar douches for vaginal involvement.

Control of blood sugar, diet, and adequate availability of fresh air and sunshine helps to increase resistance to this problem. Skin involvement with fungi and yeast is quite common. Usually these organism cause ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch—an itching rash in the groin.

Topical treatments, drying agents, and frequent changes of clothes, particularly dry socks on the feet are important to decrease the incidence of this summertime nuisance. Scalp involvement is more difficult to eradicate. Fortunately, the superficial fungi are quite sensitive to sunlight.