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Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by a fungus, called Histoplasma capsulatum (H. capsulatum). The fungus lives in the soil, and is breathed in through a person’s lungs. Most people with histoplasmosis have no symptoms and may never know they are infected. A small number of people may develop flu-like symptoms that last about 10 days. But histoplasmosis can be serious for people with weakened immune systems or who have chronic diseases, or for infants. Rarely, it can lead to death.
Because the symptoms are alike, doctors sometimes mistake histoplasmosis for tuberculosis. About 500,000 people are exposed to H. capsulatum each year in the United States.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people with histoplasmosis have no symptoms or very mild ones. Signs and symptoms that happen in rare cases include the following:
When the disease spreads throughout the body, it affects many organ systems. A person may have the following symptoms:
Histoplasmosis is caused by a common fungus that is found in mild climates throughout the world. Many people living in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys of the United States have been infected with the fungus, called H. capsulatum. It grows in moist soil that is rich in nitrogen, or in places contaminated with bird or bat droppings, such as attics, barns, caves, and city parks.
People breathe the spores of fungus into the lungs, where they grow. In people with healthy immune systems, they usually do not spread to other parts of the body. In those with weakened immune systems, however, the spores may spread to the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, bone marrow, adrenal glands, and digestive system.
Histoplasmosis may also occur in the wake of a solid organ transplant, such as a heart, lung, or kidney transplant.
Many people living in mild climates can become infected with histoplasmosis. Those most at risk of becoming infected include:
Those at risk of severe infection include:
Because most people with histoplasmosis have no symptoms, it can be hard to diagnose. In addition to a physical exam, your doctor may do the following tests:
It isn’t easy to prevent exposure to the fungus that causes histoplasmosis because it is widespread. However, the following steps may help prevent infection:
Mild cases of histoplasmosis may not need to be treated. Doctors treat more serious cases, with symptoms that include high fever, trouble breathing, loss of appetite, and malaise, with antifungal medications.
Medications stop the fungus from growing in the body. Doctors often use these medications in severe cases when the infection has spread to other organs and tissues throughout the body.
Surgery and Other Procedures
Surgery is only needed in rare cases when serious complications arise.
Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
Although no supplements cure histoplasmosis, a few studies suggest that some supplements may help reduce symptoms. Ask your doctor about the best ways to add complementary therapies into your overall treatment plan. Always tell your health care provider about the herbs and supplements you are using or considering using.
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
The following supplements may help reduce symptoms, although there isn’t any scientific evidence to know for sure:
Herbs can strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, you should make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
These herbs have not been studied specifically for histoplasmosis, but they seem to stop the growth of some fungus.
Warnings and Precautions
The medications used to treat histoplasmosis may interact with a number of other drugs. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the medications you take. Amphotericin can be toxic to the kidneys, so your doctor will watch you carefully while you take it.
Prognosis and Complications
Most people don't have serious complications, but rarely they may include:
Most cases of histoplasmosis are mild, and symptoms go away in 10 days without treatment. Sometimes symptoms may last for several weeks. In the most severe cases, particularly when the infection spreads throughout the body, a person may need to take antifungal medications for a long time. If left untreated, severe cases can cause death. People in areas where the fungus is common may get a second infection, even after treatment. But the second one is usually milder than the first.
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Review Date: 12/6/2014
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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