Blastomycosis

Blastomycosis is a rare infection that may develop when people breathe in (inhale) a fungus called Blastomyces dermatitidis, which is found in wood and soil.

Causes

Blastomycosis occurs in people living in the south-central and midwestern United States and Canada. The infection is seen in 1-2 out of every 100,000 people in areas where the fungus most often occurs. It is even less common outside those areas.

Being around infected soil is the key risk factor.

The disease usually affects people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or who have had an organ transplant. Men are more likely to be affected than women.

Symptoms

Lung infection may produce no symptoms, but when the infection spreads, skin or bone sores (lesions) may appear. The bladder, kidney, prostate, and testes may be affected.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough (may produce brown or bloody mucus)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • General discomfort, uneasiness, or ill feeling (malaise)
  • Joint stiffness and pain
  • Muscle stiffness and pain
  • Rash
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Unintentional weight loss

Exams and Tests

  • Chest x-ray
  • Skin biopsy
  • Sputum culture and examination under the microscope after applying special stains to sputum
  • Tissue biopsy

Treatment

Medicines may not be needed for a blastomycosis infection that stays in the lungs, unless it becomes severe. When the disease is severe, or when it spreads outside of the lungs, the following medicines (anti-fungals) may be prescribed:

  • Fluconazole
  • Itraconazole
  • Ketoconazole

Amphotericin B may be used for severe infections.

Follow-up regularly with your doctor to make sure the infection doesn't return.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Patients with minor skin sores (lesions) and relatively mild lung infections usually recover completely. If the infection is not treated, it can become severe enough to cause death.

Possible Complications

  • Large sores with pus (abscesses)
  • Return of the infection (relapse or disease recurrence)
  • Side effects from drugs such as amphotericin B

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of blastomycosis.

Prevention

Avoiding travel to areas where the infection is known to occur may help prevent exposure to the fungus, but this may not always be possible.

Alternative Names

North American blastomycosis; Gilchrist's disease