Fungal Meningitis

By:    Published: October 24, 2012

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Fungal meningitis is a very rare and serious disease that requires immediate medical attention. It is possible that you haven’t heard of fungal meningitis, but due to a recent outbreak of the disease in the United States, everyone should take the time to know the facts about fungal meningitis. Anyone can contract fungal meningitis, though it is more prevalent among those with compromised immune systems. It is not spread through person-to-person contact and can only be transmitted when the infected fungal spores are inhaled, injected or otherwise entered into the body.

Definition

Fungal meningitis attacks the body when a fungus is introduced into the bloodstream and enters into the central nervous system. The fungus spreads through the body. There are different types of fungal meningitis that attack the body in different ways. Types of fungal meningitis include:

  • Cryptococcus
  • Histoplasma
  • Blastomyces
  • Coccidioides
  • Candida

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of fungal meningitis can differ from person to person. The Meningitis Foundation of America recommends that any person displaying any symptoms of fungal meningitis seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms of fungal meningitis are:

  • Below normal fever
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Change in mental state
  • Hallucinations
  • Irritability

Causes

Infected fungal spores entering the body and attacking the central nervous system cause fungal meningitis. Fungal meningitis is the result of an infection from fungus that spreads to and invades the spinal cord. The various types of fungal meningitis are transmitted in different ways.

  • Cryptococcus is transmitted through the inhalation of fungal cells found in contaminated soil.
  • Histoplasma is transmitted similarly and found in areas that are infested with bat and/or bird droppings. It is found primarily in the Midwest, in the areas around the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
  • Blastonyces is transmitted through soil that has been overwhelmingly contaminated with decayed organic particles.
  • Coccidiodes is found in soil, primarily in the areas of the Southwestern United States and areas of Central and South America.
  • Candida is typically found in patients that have contracted the fungus while in the hospital.

In recent months there has been an outbreak of fungal meningitis in approximately 23 states. This outbreak is thought to be the result of the contamination of a steroid injection.

Risk Factors

Fungal meningitis is a rare disease. However, it is a serious medical condition that can lead to death. Certain factors may increase your chances of contracting fungal meningitis. These risk factors include:

  • A compromised immune system that is weakened by underlying medical conditions, prescription medications or surgery.
  • An immature immune system, as in that of a premature baby with a low birth weight.
  • Living in areas that are heavily ridden with bird or bat droppings.
  • Living in specific parts of the United States, such as the Midwest and Southwestern states.
  • Coccidiodes infection is more prominent in Filipinos, African Americans and women in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Diagnostic Testing

When an individual is suspected of suffering from meningitis of any kind, a lumbar puncture will be performed and a collection of fluid will be taken from the person’s spinal column. The specimen is then brought to a laboratory where any fungal infections will be identified. If fungal meningitis is concluded, the type of fungus that caused the illness will be identified.

Treatment Options

If you have been diagnosed with fungal meningitis, your treatment will likely be performed in the hospital. A powerful dose of intravenous antifungal medications will be given. Treatment length is dependent on different factors such as:

  • The condition of the patient’s immune system, how weak or how strong
  • The type of fungus that is responsible for the meningitis
  • Patients with suppressed immune systems due to HIV, AIDS, diabetes or various types of cancer will likely need an extended treatment period

Prevention

There is currently no vaccine to prevent fungal meningitis. To safeguard yourself against possible contamination, especially if you have a compromised immune system, it may be helpful to avoid the following:

  • Places that are likely to contain fungus
  • Places that are laden with bird or bat droppings
  • Dusting or digging in areas that are known to have droppings or contaminated soil
  • If you have been recently injected with a steroid, contact your doctor to see if you may have been exposed

Fungal Meningitis Outbreak 2012

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have announced an outbreak of fungal meningitis. The spread of the meningitis has been linked to steroid injections that patients have received; these injections have been due to:

  • Spinal epidural (not like that given to pregnant women)
  • Peripheral joint space injections of the knee, ankle and shoulder
  • Ophthalmic injections that are used during eye surgery
  • Cardioplegic solution that may be utilized with cardiac patients

Doctors and patients who may have been exposed to the contaminated steroid injections should be aware and look out for any symptoms. Symptoms may take time to progress; it may take between 1 to 4 weeks after exposure for symptoms to appear. The particular strain of meningitis linked to this outbreak is due to a fungus not typically known to cause meningitis. If you have had an injection of steroids after May 2012 believed to be linked to this outbreak and have any new or worsening symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

Fungal meningitis is not a common illness; however, with the current outbreak reaching 23 of the 50 United States and growing, it is important to know the risks and symptoms. Fungal meningitis occurs when the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain become infected with fungus. Even with treatment, it is possible for fungal meningitis to cause severe complication s and even death.

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