Aspergillosis

Definition
Aspergillosis is an infection, a growth, or an allergic response caused by the Aspergillus fungus.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Aspergillosis is caused by a fungus (Aspergillus), which is commonly found growing on dead leaves, stored grain, compost piles, or in other decaying vegetation.

It causes illness in three ways: as an allergic reaction in people with Asthma (Pulmonary aspergillosis - allergic bronchopulmonary type); as a colonization and growth in an old healed lung cavity from previous disease (such as Tuberculosis or lung abscess) where it produces a fungus ball called aspergilloma; and as an invasive infection with pneumonia that is spread to other parts of the body by the bloodstream (Pulmonary aspergillosis - invasive type).

The invasive infection can affect the eye, causing Blindness, and any other organ of the body, but especially the heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys. The third form occurs almost exclusively in people who are immunosuppressed because of cancer, AIDS, Leukemia, organ transplants, high doses of corticosteroid drugs, Chemotherapy, or other diseases that reduce the number of normal white blood cells.

Symptoms
Symptoms of allergic aspergillosis:

     
  • Fever  
  • Malaise  
  • Cough  
  • Coughing up blood or brownish mucous plugs  
  • Wheezing  
  • Weight loss  
  • Recurrent episodes of lung obstruction

Symptoms of invasive infection:

     
  • Fever  
  • Chills  
  • headaches  
  • Cough  
  • Shortness of breath  
  • Chest pain  
  • Increased sputum production, which may be bloody  
  • Bone pain  
  • Blood in the urine  
  • Decreased urine output  
  • Weight loss  
  • Symptoms involving specific organs       o Brain: meningitis       o Eye: Blindness or visual impairment       o Sinuses: Sinusitis       o Heart: endocarditis

Signs and tests

     
  • Abnormal Chest x-ray or CT scan  
  • Sputum stain and culture showing Aspergillus  
  • Tissue biopsy (see Bronchoscopy with transbronchial biopsy) for aspergillosis  
  • Aspergillus antigen skin test  
  • Aspergillosis precipitin antibody  
  • Elevated serum total IgE (immunoglobulin)  
  • Peripheral eosinophilia with allergic disease

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to control symptomatic infection. A fungus ball usually does not require treatment unless bleeding into the lung tissue is associated with the infection, then surgical removal is required.

Invasive aspergillosis is treated with several weeks of intravenous amphotericin B, an antifungal medication. Itraconazole or voriconazole can also be used.

Endocarditis caused by Aspergillus is treated by surgical removal of the infected heart valves and long-term amphotericin B therapy.

Allergic aspergillosis is treated with oral prednisone. Some people may benefit from allergy desensitization. Antifungal agents do not help people with allergic aspergillosis.

Expectations (prognosis)
Gradual improvement is seen in patients with allergic aspergillosis. Invasive aspergillosis may resist drug treatment and progress to death. The underlying disease and immune status of a person with invasive aspergillosis will also affect the overall prognosis.

Complications

     
  • Amphotericin B can cause kidney impairment and severely unpleasant side effects.  
  • Invasive lung disease can cause massive bleeding from the lung.

Calling your health care provider
Call the health care provider if symptoms suggest this disease; if urine output becomes decreased while receiving antifungal medication; or if fever, chills, headache, or other worsening symptoms develop.

Prevention
Be cautious in the use of drugs that suppress the immune system. Prevention of AIDS prevents opportunistic diseases, including aspergillosis, that are associated with a damaged or incompetent immune system.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Levon Ter-Markosyan, D.M.D.

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