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Blastomycosis

Definition

Blastomycosis is a rare infection that may develop when people breathe in (inhale) a fungus called Blastomyces dermatitidis, which is found in wood and soil.

See also: Skin lesion of blastomycosis

Alternative Names

North American blastomycosis; Gilchrist's disease

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

You can get blastomyocosis by inhaling Blastomyces dermatitidis particles, a fungus that is found in moist soil, particularly where there is rotting vegetation. The fungus enters the body through the lungs, infecting them. The fungus then spreads (disseminates) to other areas of the body. The infection may affect the skin, bones and joints, and other areas.

Blastomycosis is rare. It is most common in the central and southeastern United States, and in Canada, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Africa.

Being around infected soil is the key risk factor. The disease usually affects people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or who have had an organ transplant. Men are more likely to be affected than women.

Symptoms

Lung infection may not cause any symptoms. Symptoms may be seen if the infection spreads. Symptoms may include:

Signs and tests

Treatment

Medicines may not be needed for a blastomycosis infection that stays in the lungs, unless it becomes severe. When the disease is severe, or when it spreads outside of the lungs, the following medicines (anti-fungals) may be prescribed:

  • Fluconazole
  • Itraconazole
  • Ketoconazole

Amphotericin B may be used for severe infections.

Follow-up regularly with your doctor to make sure the infection doesn't return.

Expectations (prognosis)

Patients with minor skin sores (lesions) and relatively mild lung infections usually recover completely. If the infection is not treated, it can become severe enough to cause death.

Complications

  • Large sores with pus (abscesses)
  • Return of the infection (relapse or disease recurrence)
  • Side effects from drugs such as amphotericin B

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of blastomycosis.

Prevention

Avoiding travel to areas where the infection is known to occur may help prevent exposure to the fungus, but this may not always be possible.

References

Kauffman CA. Blastomycosis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 355.


Review Date: 9/15/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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