What is Cryptococcosis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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Cryptococcosis is a disease caused by infection with Cryptococcus neoformans, a fungus which is commonly found in bird feces and the soil. This condition can be fatal if it is left untreated, especially in the case of patients who have compromised immune systems. Incidence of cryptococcosis in the general population is very low, as most people are able to resist infection with this fungus.

Classically, people develop cryptococcosis because they inhale the spores of the fungus. The spores colonize the lungs, causing pneumonia-like symptoms such as chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue. In some patients, the infection may spread to other areas of the body, with the fungus colonizing various organs and other tissues. These situations can become extremely dangerous very quickly, as the fungus will interfere with normal organ function.

Some cases of cryptococcosis manage to leap into the nervous system, eventually allowing the fungus to reach the brain. These cases are generally fatal, as the fungus destroys the brain, and the neurological symptoms can take a long time to emerge. By the time the patient's confusion, blurry vision, shaky hands, and other neurological symptoms are traced to cryptococcosis, the damage may have progressed too far.


People can also develop this condition when fungal spores enter cuts and abrasions on their bodies, causing cutaneous cryptococcosis. This can cause large sores and raised growths to appear on the skin. The spores may also spread through the wound into the body, where they can spread to vital organs. Classically, people develop cutaneous forms of the disease as a result of contact with birds or infected soil.

Symptoms of cryptococcosis do not always appear, and they usually show up late. Because this condition is relatively rare, a doctor may not immediately connect the symptoms with the disease, unless the patient has AIDS or another condition which has resulted in a compromised immune system, and the doctor has a great deal of experience in treating such patients. Patients who have weakened immune systems should make sure that they are working with skilled and experienced doctors who can recognize the signs of dangerous infections early.

The treatment for cryptococcosis is aggressive administration of antifungal drugs which are designed to kill the fungus and prevent it from spreading. The patient may also be given supportive care such as ventilation with a respirator if he or she is having trouble breathing independently. The prognosis for patients with this condition greatly improves if they are diagnosed early and action is taken rapidly.



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