Cryptococcus neoformans and gattii are fungi that most commonly infect people with immunodeficiency, especially AIDS, which is highly prevalent in Africa. Cryptococcus is the final cause of death in perhaps 25% of AIDS patients and preventative treatment is sometimes used if the lymphocyte count is too low.
It is an opportunistic fungus, with similarities to pneumocystis carina, which is discussed in a previous entry.
The areas in the body most commonly affected are the lungs, the skin, and the brain. The lung and skin, being exposed to the environment, are the most common entry points for the fungus, and the brain is a frequently involved area. Chronic meningitis, where the symptoms include headache, blurred vision, and confusion, is frequently caused by cryptococcus.
Sometimes, in healthy people, the skin can be infected with “pigeon breeders disease”. Pigeon droppings are a very common source of cryptococcus organisms.
Infection In the lung is usually restricted to immunocompromised individuals, who develop cough, shortness of breath, and fever. Pulmonary cryptococcosis is a slowly developing disease, can be mistaken for tuberculosis, and frequently gets into the bloodstream and then into the brain.
Treatment is usually with amphotericin B and flucytosine.