Cryptococcosis

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Definition

Cryptococcosis is infection with Cryptococcus neoformans fungus.

Causes

Cryptococcus neoformans is the fungus that causes this disease. It is usually found in soil. If you breathe it in, it infects your lungs. The infection may go away on its own, remain in the lungs only, or spread throughout the body (disseminate).

This infection is most often seen in people with a weakened immune system, such as those who:

  • Are infected with HIV
  • Take high doses of corticosteroid medications
  • Are on chemotherapy drugs for cancer
  • Have Hodgkin's disease

Cryptococcus is the most common life-threatening fungal infection in people with AIDS.

Symptoms

People with a normal immune system may have no symptoms at all.

The infection may spread to the brain in people who have a weakened immune system. Neurological (brain) symptoms start slowly. Most people with this infection have swelling and irritation of the brain and spinal cord when they are diagnosed.

Exams and Tests

Physical examination may reveal:

  • Abnormal breath sounds
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fever
  • Mental status changes
  • Stiff neck

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Some infections require no treatment. Even so, there should be regular check-ups for a full year to make sure the infection has not spread. If there are lung lesions or the disease spreads, antifungal medications are prescribed. These drugs may need to be taken for a long time.

Medications include:

  • Amphotericin B
  • Flucytosine
  • Fluconazole

Amphotericin B can have severe side effects.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Central nervous system involvement often causes death or leads to permanent damage.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of cryptococcosis, especially if you have a weakened immune system.

References

Kauffman CA. Cryptococcosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 344.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 8/31/2014
  • 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, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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