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Histoplasmosis

What is histoplasmosis? 

Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by a fungus. The disease primarily affects the lungs but does occasionally invade other parts of the body. 
 
Where is the fungus that causes histoplasmosis found? 
 
The fungus that causes histoplasmosis is commonly found throughout the world and is endemic in eastern and central United States especially the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri River valleys. The fungus can be found in moist soil and grows well if mixed with bird, chicken or bat droppings. 
 
How is the fungus spread? 
 
The fungus produces spores that if disturbed, can become airborne. If a person breathes in these spores, they could become infected. The disease does not spread from person-to-person. 
 
What are the symptoms of histoplasmosis? 
 
Many people infected with histoplasmosis do not become ill. When symptoms do develop, it usually involves the lungs and is characterized by fever, dry cough, chest pain and muscle aches. 
 
How soon after an exposure do symptoms appear? 
 
If symptoms occur, they usually appear 3-17 days after exposure. 
 
Who gets histoplasmosis? 
 
Everyone is susceptible to this fungus and could get the disease if exposed. Lung infection is more common in males than in females. Infants, young children and older persons, especially those with chronic lung disease are most likely to become ill. Persons who have a weakened immune system (such as those with AIDS or cancer) are at increased risk for disseminated disease (i.e. disease that spreads throughout their body). 
 
What is the treatment for histoplasmosis? 
 
Antifungal medications can be prescribed by a healthcare provider to treat severe illness. Most mild cases resolve without treatment. 
 
Does past infected with histoplasmosis make a person immune? 
 
Past infection usually results in increased resistance to infection, although immunity is not complete. 
 
What can be done to prevent the spread of histoplasmosis? 
 
Limit exposure to contaminated soil that may harbor the fungus (e.g. soil mixed with bat or bird droppings). Those at risk for exposure should consider use of a protective mask and disposable clothing and spraying the area with water to reduce dust and decrease the likelihood of inhaling spores. 
 
To learn more about histoplasmosis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevetion.
 
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