Fungal diseases may sound mysterious and dangerous, but they are often caused by fungi that are common in the environment. Fungi can be found in soil, on plants, trees, and other vegetation, and on our skin, mucous membranes, and intestinal tracts. Most fungi are not dangerous, and some can even be helpful – for example, penicillin, bread, wine, and beer use ingredients made from fungi. However, some types of fungi can be harmful to health; like bacteria and viruses, some fungi can act as pathogens or toxins.
The symptoms of fungal diseases depend on the type of infection and location within the body. Some types of fungal infections can be mild, such as a rash or a mild respiratory illness. However, other fungal infections can be severe, such as fungal pneumonia or bloodstream infection, and can lead to serious complications such as meningitis or death. Learn about the different types of fungal diseases by clicking on the name of each disease.
Investigation of Fungal Meningitis, October 2012
CDC Responds to Multistate Fungal Meningitis Outbreak
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with state and local health departments and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is investigating a multistate fungal meningitis outbreak among patients who received contaminated steroid injections. This form of meningitis is not contagious. Several patients suffered strokes that are believed to have resulted from their infections. The investigation also includes fungal infections associated with injections in a peripheral joint, such as a knee, shoulder or ankle.
CDC and public health officials are referring any patients who have symptoms that suggest possible fungal infection to their physicians, who can evaluate them further. Patients who received injections in peripheral joints only are not believed to be at risk for meningitis, but they could be at risk for joint infection.
Why are fungal diseases a public health issue?
Mycotic (fungal) infections pose an increasing threat to public health for several reasons. The scientific and medical staff of the Mycotic Diseases Branch is involved with prevention and control among three broad categories of fungal infections:
- Opportunistic infections such as cryptococcosis [PDF - 2 pages] and aspergillosis are becoming increasingly problematic as the number of people with weakened immune systems rises – this includes cancer patients, transplant recipients, and people with HIV/AIDS.
- Hospital-associated infections such as candidemia are a leading cause of bloodstream infections in the United States. Advancements and changes in healthcare practices can provide opportunities for new and drug-resistant fungi to emerge in hospital settings.
- Community-acquired infections such as coccidioidomycosis (valley fever), blastomycosis, and histoplasmosis, are caused by fungi that are abundant in the environment. These types of fungi live in the soil, on plants, or in compost heaps, and are endemic (native and common) throughout much of the U.S. Climate change may be affecting these fungi, as even small changes in temperature or moisture can affect their growth.
What is CDC doing to combat fungal diseases?
The Mycotic Diseases Branch responds to the public heath burden of fungal disease [PDF - 2 pages] through a variety of domestic and international activities.
- Responding to outbreaks with epidemiologic investigations
- Monitoring long-term trends in fungal diseases through surveillance
- Developing, evaluating, and promoting cost-effective prevention guidelines and intervention strategies
- Conducting laboratory activities that are vital to outbreak investigations and surveillance studies
- Equipping laboratories in developing countries to perform diagnostic tests