Fungal Infections

Fungal (FUNG-gul) infections are caused by fungi (FUNG-eye) that can grow on the skin, nails, and hair and within internal organs.

* microbes (MY-krobes) are microscopic living organisms, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi.

What Are Fungal Infections?

Fungal infections are caused by fungi, tiny microbes * found in soil, air, and water, as well as on plants, animals, and people. There are at least 100,000 species of fungi. The most familiar types are the mushrooms that some people like to eat on pizza, the fuzzy white or blue-green mold that grows on forgotten foods in the back of the refrigerator, and the mildew on the shower curtain. Fungi grow best in warm, moist areas, like a steamy bathroom or the spaces between the toes.


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Relatively few species of fungi cause fungal infections, also called mycoses (my-KO-seez). Those that produce infection can cause two basic types: superficial and systemic infections. Superficial infections are found on the skin, nails, or hair and usually are not serious. Systemic infections take hold inside the body, in individual organs or throughout the body, and can be severe. Systemic infections are more likely to appear in people who have weak immune systems, such as those who have cancer or AIDS * . In these people, the infections can cause chronic * disease and, in some cases, death.

What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms
of Fungal Infections?

Superficial fungal infections, such as jock itch, vaginal yeast infection, athlete's foot, and ringworm, typically are annoying but not very serious. Their symptoms generally include itchy, dry, red, scaly, or irritated skin. Systemic fungal infections often begin in the lungs and take time to develop. Severe infections occur in people whose immune systems have been weakened, allowing the infection to spread beyond the lungs to other organs. Symptoms of systemic fungal infections depend on which organs become infected and may include respiratory problems, extreme tiredness, coughing, weight loss, fever, night sweats, and headache.

What Are Some Specific Fungal Infections?

Tinea (TIH-nee-uh) is a general term given to a group of superficial fungal infections that affect the nails, feet (athlete's foot), groin area (jock itch), scalp, or skin (ringworm). Trichophyton and Microsporum fungi cause these related infections. Ringworm is identified by a red, scaly patch on the skin that looks like an expanding ring around a clearing center. Symptoms of athlete's foot include redness and cracking of the skin between the toes, and infected nails on the hands or feet usually look white and appear to be crumbling.

* AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency (ih-myoo-no-dih-FIH-shen-see) syndrome, is an infection that severely weakens the immune system: it is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

* chronic (KRAH-nik) means continuing for a long period of time.

* diabetes (dye-uh-BEE-teez) is a condition in which the body's pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot use the insulin it makes effectively, resulting in increased levels of sugar in the blood. This can lead to increased urination, dehydration, weight loss, weakness, and a number of other symptoms and complications related to chemical imbalances within the body.

Candidiasis (kan-dih-DYE-uh-sis) is a superficial fungal infection caused by various strains of Candida (CAN-dih-duh) fungi. Candida is a yeastlike fungus often found in the mouth and the lining of the intestinal tract of healthy people. In people with weak immune systems, however, it can grow out of control, leading to an infection. A Candida infection of the mouth and throat is known as oropharyngeal (or-oh-fair-in-JEE-ul) candidiasis (OPC) or thrush, and infection of the vagina is known as vulvovaginal (vul-vo-VAH-jih-nul) candidiasis (VVC) or vaginal yeast infection. OPC can affect newborns, people with AIDS or diabetes * , and other people with weak immune systems. Its symptoms include white, thick patches on the tongue, mouth, and throat. Candida infection commonly occurs in newborns in the form of thrush or diaper rash. VVC is associated with vaginal burning or itching and a thick, cheeselike discharge. In certain situations, Candida can enter the bloodstream and spread to internal organs. This is seen most frequently in hospitalized patients who have weak immune systems and have received antibiotics.

A yeast colony, as seen with an electron microscope, looks like growing vegetation. Custom Medical Stock Photo, Inc.
A yeast colony, as seen with an electron microscope, looks like growing vegetation.
Custom Medical Stock Photo, Inc.

Aspergillosis (as-per-jih-LO-sis) is the name for a variety of systemic infections caused by Aspergillus (as-per-JIH-lus) fungi. If it is inhaled through the mouth or nose, the fungus can cause a mild allergic reaction or a more serious infection of the sinuses * and lungs. Symptoms of aspergillosis vary and may include fever, cough, chest pain, and wheezing. In severe cases, typically seen in people with weak immune systems, the infection can spread to other organs, including the brain, skin, and bones.

Blastomycosis (blas-toh-my-KO-sis) is a systemic infection caused by the Blastomyces dermatitidis fungus commonly found in soil in the southeastern, midwestern, and south-central United States. The disease's symptoms resemble those of the flu: joint and muscle pain, a cough that brings up sputum * , fever, chills, and chest pain. If it progresses, it can lead to chronic pulmonary * infection, causing permanent lung damage, or widespread disease that affects the bones, skin, and genital and urinary tracts. Blastomycosis leads to death in about 5 percent of patients.

Cryptococcosis (krip-toh-kah-KO-sis) is a systemic infection caused by the fungus Cryptococcus neofornans, usually found in soil or bird droppings. Typically, the fungus enters the body through the mouth or nostrils when someone inhales fungi spores * , and symptoms of a lung infection, such as cough and chest pain, may develop. Although infection with Cryptococcus usually produces no symptoms or only mild symptoms in healthy people, the infection may spread in people who have weak immune systems. If it spreads to the central nervous system, it can cause inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. This is especially common among people with AIDS.

Histoplasmosis (his-toh-plaz-MO-sis) is usually a mild systemic infection caused by Histoplasma capsulatum. This fungus is found in the eastern and central United States in soil that contains bird and bat feces * . When the soil is disturbed, the fungal spores may be inhaled. Histoplasmosis can cause flulike symptoms, including body aches, fever, and cough. Most people who become infected do not experience symptoms, but as with other fungal infections, people with weak immune systems are at risk for severe disease. In those cases, the infection affects the lungs and may spread to the liver * , spleen * , bones, and brain.

* sinuses (SY-nuh-ses) are hollow, air-filled cavities in the facial bones.

* sputum (SPYOO-tum) is a substance that contains mucus and other matter coughed out from the lungs, bronchi, and trachea.

* pulmonary means referring to or pertaining to the lungs.

* spores are a temporarily inactive form of a germ enclosed in a protective shell.

* feces (FEE-seez) is the excreted waste from the gastrointestinal tract.

* liver is a large organ located beneath the ribs on the right side of the body. The liver performs numerous digestive and chemical functions essential for health.

* spleen is an organ In the upper left part of the abdomen that stores and filters blood. As part of the immune system, the spleen also plays a role in fighting infection.

Sporotrichosis (spo-ro-trih-KO-sis) is a skin infection caused by the Sporothrix schenckii fungus, which is found in soil, thorny plants, hay, sphagnum (SFAG-num) moss, and other plant materials. It enters the skin through a small cut or puncture, such as a thorn might make. Soon, small reddish bumps resembling boils * form around the cut and often ulcerate * . In some cases, infection can spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or joints.

Coccidioidomycosis (kok-sih-dee-oyd-o-my-KO-sis) is a systemic infection caused by Coccidioides immitis, a fungus found in soil in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and South America. Most people with coccidioidomycosis have no symptoms, but 40 percent of patients experience a flulike illness, with fever, rash, muscle aches, and cough. Also know as valley fever, the infection can cause pneumonia * or widespread disease affecting the skin, bones, and membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

How Common Are Fungal Infections?

Superficial fungal infections, such as athlete's foot and candidiasis, are fairly common. Systemic infections, on the other hand, are rare, appearing in less than one to two people of every 100,000 in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are more common in certain populations, such as people with AIDS or those who have had organ transplants.

With the so-called endemic * mycoses, rates of disease are higher in specific geographic areas. For example, coccidioidomycosis occurs in about 15 of every 100,000 people in parts of the southwestern United States (with 10 to 50 percent of the population testing positive for exposure to the fungus). In areas where histoplasmosis is found, up to 80 percent of the population test positive for exposure to Histoplasma capsulatum, but the disease develops only in people with weak immune systems.

Are They Contagious?

Some fungal infections, such as candidiasis and ringworm, can spread from person to person through contact with the infected area. Most infections, however, develop from fungi found naturally on the human body or in the environment. Many fungi that cause systemic respiratory disease are found in soil or in the droppings of animals or birds. Usually they are inhaled after the soil or droppings are disturbed, sending dust and fungal spores into the air.

Friendly Bacteria

Naturally occurring "friendly" bacteria and fungi live side by side on the human body. Some bacteria help keep fungi in check by preventing them from reproducing uncontrollably and causing disease. From time to time, however, doctors need to prescribe antibiotics to combat not-so-friendly bacteria that cause illness. Most antibiotics kill many types of bacteria, both good and bad, and using them for long periods of time can destroy too many friendly bacteria, allowing fungi to grow unchecked and eventually cause infection. To preserve the bacteria we need, it is important to use antibiotics only when necessary and prescribed by a doctor.

* boils are skin abscesses, or collections of pus in the skin,

* ulcerate means to become eroded by infection, inflammation, or irritation.

* pneumonia (nu-MO-nyah) is inflammation of the lung.

* endemic (en-DEH-mik) describes a disease or condition that is present in a population or geographic area at all times.

* culture (KUL-chur) is a test in which a sample of fluid or tissue from the body is placed in a dish containing material that supports the growth of certain organisms. Over time, ranging from hours to weeks, the organisms will grow and can be identified.

* cerebrospinal (seh-ree-bro-SPY-nuhl) fluid is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

How Do Doctors Make the Diagnosis?

Most superficial fungal infections are diagnosed based on their appearance and location. A doctor also may take a skin scraping to examine under the microscope or to culture * in a laboratory. Some fungi glow with a particular color under ultraviolet light, so a doctor may make the diagnosis by shining such a light on the affected area. Systemic infections can be diagnosed by collecting a sample of blood, urine, cerebrospinal fluid * , or sputum to culture.

Can Fungal Infections Be Treated?

Most superficial fungal infections are treated at home with antifungal creams or shampoos for 1 to 2 weeks. Oral (taken by mouth) antifungal medication also may be prescribed, if necessary. Some cases of fungal infection last for a while and may need to be treated with medicine for 2 to 4 weeks or even longer. Systemic illnesses often require hospitalization so that the patient can receive intravenous * antifungal drugs and supportive care.

Can Fungal Infections Be Prevented?

Preventing fungal infections can be difficult, because fungi are everywhere. In general, people who are otherwise healthy rarely contract systemic fungal infections. Practicing good hygiene, keeping the skin dry, and changing socks and underwear every day can help prevent superficial skin infections.

* intravenous (in-tra-VEE-nus) means within or through a vein, For example, medications, fluid, or other substances can be given through a needle or soft tube inserted through the skin's surface directly into a vein.

See also
Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever)
Skin and Soft Tissue Infections



U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333. The CDC provides fact sheets and other information on fungal infections through its website.
Telephone 800-311-3435

Website . KidsHealth is a website created by the medical experts of the Nemours Foundation and is devoted to issues of children's health. It contains articles on a variety of health topics, including fungal infections.

User Contributions:

I was tested positive 2x for aspergilious poisoning black mold poisoning once in a out patient for the sinuses and an instay in the hospital for the lungs lower right lobe they even treated me one time for it while there. It was my second exposure I am highly allergic to molds. Our dilemma I had gotten real ill was put on IGG treatment they were working from 2009 until 2014 we noticed a changed the same year my granddaughter was born she also had severe stomach issues we had a beautiful lake apartment long story short it flooded a lot I put carpet, window trim, paint, and brand new 4000 dollar furniture which had gotten contaminated I lost everything and so did my daughter we lost our savings in this place. We had it tested with a reputable company compliments of my husband I being in some form of construction in the past, he tested it the result 110% toxic fumes inside and out of the apartment bldg, recommend to the owner and bldg inspector bulldoze today they are still renting. 2 PPL we knew died while we living there 4 had kidney failure and dialysis, me the other t 1 was a cop an ambulance picked up for something 2 mths ago asking if I would willing give the chief my test I answered why he stated there was more than two deaths in that bldg. We had a huge hole in he ceiling and you can clearly see the mold. Since then my immune Dr dropped me I haven't had a IGG TREATMENT in 10 months my new primary care physician told her he was not happy he is diligently trying to find a Dr for the mold disease and immune disorder, I can't find an attorney either. The city new the whole time I can prove that one I am very smart, good with the net and programs. Today I coughed up a tapeworm with my sputum I can't go to an ER because I have no home my husband and I live in his company truck we come back on the weekends to watch and spend time with my granddaughter. We also were and still have Identity theft issues and the last landlord lied about us being evicted when we weren't I can prove that also matter of fact they transposed my husband signature to a legal document. If you can help we'd appreciate it I did however discovered I have emergency surgery on my teeth my teeth are rotting from the jaw up the my sinuses, frontal skull and right lung my granddaughter needs her sinuses. All because we were victims.

Sam's Journey

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