Tag Archives: AIDS

Infections: Cryptococcus Neoformans (Fungi)

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.

—Dr. C.

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Pneumocystis is found in the respiratory tract of most mammals and Man. Pneumonia from this organism was extremely rare or unknown before the advent of AIDS.

When the lymphocyte count of a person with AIDS drops below 500, or especially 200, pneumocystis pneumonia is a frequent complication. Symptoms include cough, fever, rapid breathing, and shortness of breath.. The chest x-ray typically shows a “ground glass” appearance, caused by fluid inside the air sacs and throughout the lung. Treatment is usually with trimethoprim sulfa.

Immunosuppressive therapy is often given for organ transplants and auto immune diseases these days. Patients and doctors should be on the lookout for pneumocystis symptoms in this situation. Even long-term corticosteroids can produce enough immunosuppression to allow pneumocystis to invade the body.

Pneumocystis Jeroveci is the causative organism, and used to be called pneumocystis Carini. Doctors suspect this disease when an immuno-suppressed patient, especially AIDS , has a dry cough, with pneumonia and  a very low oxygen concentration, more severe than expected.  Fluid taken from the lung shows several  organisms in little sacks or cysts.

Treatment is with sulfonamids, if they are tolerated. Cortisone must be given not the same time to prevent a severe reaction from absorption of the dead organisms. Pneumocystis is a yeast-like fungus and is also discussed under opportunistic fungal infections.

The following article will give you more information.

—Dr. C.

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Fungi are in the outside air, the inside air, and even the air of isolation units In hospitals. The normal human respiratory tract is able to breathe these fungi in, have them deposited on the mucous membrane surfaces and have no problem. The normal respiratory membranes, with their associated cleansing cilia and normal mucus production are able to sweep the invaders out without sustaining any harm.

Problems arise when the respiratory tract is functionally or structurally abnormal, such as in cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis and COPD. Immunocompromised conditions have been increasing in frequency with the improvement in medical care in recent years. Intravascular catheters and sensors can provide a resting place for pathogens including fungi, as can cavities, scars and other damage to the lung. The immune system may require suppression to accommodate an organ transplants or ameliorate autoimmune conditions.

Cancers, especially of the hematologic or lymphatic system, such as lymphomas, pose a definite problem. Severe burns and  malnutrition may weaken the immune system, as may Viral infections, especially AIDS, and more recently COVID-19. More subtle immune problems may arise with diabetes, Obesity, or even a lack of sleep and exercise.

These and other conditions give the fungal infections the OPPORTUNITY to invade the body, and a few dozen of the thousands of species of fungi proceed to do just that. Opportunistic fungi often have special features, depending upon the species. Most prefer the respiratory tract, and if they get in to the bloodstream can go to their favored spots.

Aspergillus, and coccidiomycosis , for instance, prefer the lung. Mucormycosis often involves the sinuses and eyes. Blastomycosis can involve bone. Sporothrix is often found infecting the skin.

Symptoms depend upon the area involved. Of course if it’s a respiratory tract, you have coughing, mucus production, sometimes shortness of breath. With the central nervous system you have headache and confusion. You can see the involvement in the skin.

The number of drugs available to fight fungal infection is fairly limited, and currently involves only three different classes. Many fungi are resistant to one or two of these classes, and can be problematic.
However, fungi do not as a rule spread through the air from person to person, and a true epidemic would be unlikely.

—Dr. C.


Unexplained weight loss is rare in our society, where weight gain is so common. Weight loss usually occurs in the context of a causative illness, like prolonged diarrhea, where it is not the main symptom, but just an associated problem. However, sometimes the loss of 5 or 10% of the body’s weight can occur in a few months without explanation or clues, and a consultation is needed.

Proper Nutrition is critical for Health, including maintenance of “normal” weight. The Gastrointestinal tract extracts nutrients from the food we eat, and illnesses such as COELIAC DISEASE, or REGIONAL ENTERITIS can prevent proper absorption. Our HORMONES regulate energy and chemical balance, and Thyroid, Parathyroid, Pancreas and Adrenal malfunction can disturb weight Homeostasis.

Chronic infection, such as AIDS and TB can sap energy quietly. NEUROLOGICAL PROBLEMS such as Depression, Dementia or Parkinsons can result in an improper diet, and subsequent weight loss. CANCER is the first thing we worry about when we unexpectedly lose weight, but Neoplasms usually betray themselves with other, more dramatic symptoms.

It is a good idea to regularly check your weight at the same time every day. Almost always it will reassure you by staying the same. Sometimes it will warn you to cut your feasting. Occasionally an unexpected drop in weight will direct you to your Doctor to find an explanation.

–Dr. C.

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