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Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection that causes symptoms similar to pneumonia. The symptoms are usually mild and most people infected with histoplasmosis never show any symptoms. However, in some it may take an ugly turn and lead to serious complications.

What is Histoplasmosis?

Histoplasmisis is a fungal infection caused by Histoplasma capsulatum. The spores of this fungus are found in bird and bat droppings. When these spores become airborne and are inhaled by a person, it leads to histoplasmosis.

People who clean poultry or bird droppings, work on demolition project as well as farmers are more prone to histoplasmosis. In most cases, the condition does not lead to any symptoms or is usually very mild. People with weak immune systems or infants can develop a severe form of the disease.


Histoplasmosis is divided into the following forms of infection:

  • Asymptomatic: The infection shows no apparent symptoms and is detected only by  clinical tests. The infected person is usually unaware of the infection.
  • Acute disseminated: The infection is common in infants and children as well as people with a weak immune system. It leads to fever, cough, enlarged spleen and liver. If left untreated, it could turn fatal.
  • Acute respiratory: Long term exposure to the spores can lead to acute respiratory infection. The condition leads to weakness, muscle aches, headaches, chills, fever, cough, etc. The severity of the symptoms depends on the extent of exposure.
  • Ocular histoplasmosis: When the fungal spores affect the eye leading to inflammation and scarring of the retina, it is called as ocular histoplasmosis. The condition causes vision problems, blind spots and retina scars.


There are different forms of histoplasmosis and each leads to different symptoms that vary in severity. Some of the symptoms that may appear after exposure include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Dry cough
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Joint pain and rash on the lower body in some people


The spores of Histoplasma capsulatum  lead to histoplasmosis. The spores become airborne with dirt and other contaminants when disturbed. The fungus thrives in damp soil, organic material. Thus, the spores are usually found in chicken and pigeon coops, caves, barns and bat droppings. The infection does not spread from person to person contact.


Diagnosis of histoplasmosis is quite difficult. The disease is usually diagnosed with the help of lab tests by taking samples of blood, urine, lung secretions and lung tissue biopsy.


Immunocompetent people usually do not require any treatment for histoplasmosis. Their immune system overcomes the infection and resolves the symptoms in a couple of weeks. However, people and infants with weak immune system require treatment. They are advised antifungal medications like ampotericin B and oral itraconazole.


People with weak immune system may suffer from complications such as pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), cardiac problems, adrenal insufficiency, meningitis, etc.

One can prevent histoplasmosis by avoiding exposure to the spores. If you have an occupation that exposes you to contaminated soil, bird droppings, etc. make sure you wear an effective face mask before working in such environment. Histoplasmosis is mild in most cases, however, people with compromised immune system should seek immediate treatment.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 01, 2015