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Fungal Infections – 10 Questions to Protect Your Health

Collage of people at risk for fungal infectionsHave you wondered about your risk for fungal infection? Here are 10 questions you can use to understand fungal infections, assess your chance of getting sick, and know what you need to do to stay healthy.

Fungi are everywhere. There are an estimated 1.5 million different species of fungi on Earth, but only about 300 of those are known to make people sick. Fungal infections are often caused by microscopic fungi that are common in the environment. Fungi live outdoors in soil and on plants and trees as well as on many indoor surfaces and on human skin.

Mild fungal skin infections (such as ringworm) can look like a rash and are very common. Fungal infections in the lungs can be more serious and often cause symptoms that are similar to other illnesses, such as the flu or tuberculosis. Fungal meningitis and bloodstream infections are less common than skin and lung infections but can be life-threatening. Because the symptoms of fungal infections can be similar to other illnesses, proper diagnosis and treatment are often delayed. The more you know about fungal infections and your risk, the better prepared you can be to protect your health.

Environmental Fungal Diseases in the United States

	Map of Fungal Diseases in the United States

The shaded areas, where certain disease-causing fungi are suspected to live in the United States, are approximate and deserve further study

10 Questions to Help You Learn Your Risk for Fungal Infection

  1. Where do you live and travel? Fungi that can cause serious infections are more common in some parts of the world and in some parts of United States. For example, the fungus that causes Valley fever (also called coccidioidomycosis) is found mainly in the southwestern United States.
  2. What types of activities are you doing? Harmful fungi can be found in air, dust, and soil. Histoplasma grows especially well in soil that contains bird or bat droppings. Activities like digging, gardening, cleaning chicken coops, and visiting caves can result in you breathing in fungi that may cause infection.
  3. Do you have a dog or cat? People can get ringworm from their pets. Dogs and cats with ringworm sometimes have circular, hairless patches on their skin or other types of rashes. Adult animals do not always show signs of ringworm infection.
  4. Have you recently taken antibiotics? Antibiotics can make women more likely to get vulvovaginal candidiasis, also known as a vaginal yeast infection. Women who are pregnant and have weakened immune systems also are more likely to get this condition. Men also can get genital candidiasis.
  5. Are you taking any medications that affect your immune system? Medications used to treat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus may weaken your immune system and increase the chance of getting a fungal infection.
  6. Are you living with HIV/AIDS? People living with HIV/AIDS may be more likely to get fungal infections. Two well-known fungal infections associated with HIV/AIDS in the United States are oral candidiasis (thrush) and Pneumocystis pneumonia. Worldwide, cryptococcal meningitis is a major cause of illness in people living with HIV/AIDS.
  7. Will you be hospitalized? In the United States, one of the most common bloodstream infections in hospitalized patients is caused by a fungus called Candida. Candida normally lives in the gastrointestinal tract and on skin without causing any problems, but it can enter the bloodstream during a hospital stay and cause infection.
  8. Have you recently had a transplant? People who have recently had an organ transplant or a stem cell transplant have a greater chance of developing a fungal infection while their immune systems are weakened. Doctors prescribe antifungal medication for some transplant patients to prevent fungal infections from developing.
  9. Are you receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatments? Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, weakens your immune system and may increase the chance you will get a fungal infection.
  10. Do you have symptoms of pneumonia that are not getting better with antibiotics? Fungal infections, especially lung infections like Valley fever, histoplasmosis, and aspergillosis, can have similar symptoms as bacterial infections. However, antibiotics don't work for fungal infections. Early testing for fungal infections reduces unnecessary antibiotic use and allows people to start treatment with antifungal medication, if necessary.

Anyone can get a fungal infection. You can learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of fungal infections and get prevention tips by visiting CDC's fungal diseases website and by talking with your healthcare provider.

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