After Black Fungus, Aspergillosis Cases Rise in Covid Patients: Symptoms, Causes Explained

·4-min read

Amid a sharp rise in black and white fungus cases in India, doctors in Vadodara have reported 8 cases of a new fungal infection called aspergillosis. Doctors treating covid patients in Mumbai and Ghaziabad have also reported aspergillosis infection in positive and recovered patients.

What is aspergillosis?

Aspergillosis is an infection caused by Aspergillus, allergic reaction, or fungal growth of a common mold that lives indoors and outdoors. The fungus which grows on dead leaves and decaying vegetation is commonly found fungus in our environment and most of us breathe in Apergillus spores every day without getting sick. Still, contracting the illness is very rare. However, those with weakened immune systems or lung diseases, both common in COVID-19 patients, are at high risk of infection.

Is Aspergillosis contagious? What are its types

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are different types of aspergillosis. Some types are mild, but some of them are very serious. However, Aspergillosis can't spread between people or between people and animals from the lungs.

Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA): Occurs when Aspergillus causes inflammation in the lungs and allergy symptoms such as coughing and wheezing, but doesn't cause an infection.

Allergic Aspergillus sinusitis: Occurs when Aspergillus causes inflammation in the sinuses and symptoms of a sinus infection (drainage, stuffiness, headache) but doesn't cause an infection.

Azole-Resistant Aspergillus fumigatus: Occurs when one species of Aspergillus, A. fumigatus, becomes resistant to certain medicines used to treat it. Patients with resistant infections might not get better with treatment.

Aspergilloma: Occurs when a ball of Aspergillus grows in the lungs or sinuses, but usually does not spread to other parts of the body. Aspergilloma is also called a "fungus ball."

Chronic pulmonary aspergillosis: Occurs when Aspergillus infection causes cavities in the lungs, and can be a long-term (3 months or more) condition. One or more fungal balls (aspergillomas) may also be present in the lungs.

Invasive aspergillosis: Occurs when Aspergillus causes a serious infection, and usually affects people who have weakened immune systems, such as people who have had an organ transplant or a stem cell transplant. Invasive aspergillosis most commonly affects the lungs, but it can also spread to other parts of the body.

Cutaneous (skin) aspergillosis: Occurs when Aspergillus enters the body through a break in the skin (for example, after surgery or a burn wound) and causes infection, usually in people who have weakened immune systems. Cutaneous aspergillosis can also occur if invasive aspergillosis spreads to the skin from somewhere else in the body, such as the lungs.

Who is at risk?

According to the US health body, different types of aspergillosis affect different groups of people.

• Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) most often occurs in people who have cystic fibrosis or asthma. Aspergillomas usually affect people who have other lung diseases like tuberculosis. Also called a "fungus ball."

• Chronic pulmonary aspergillosis typically occurs in people who have other lung diseases, including tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or sarcoidosis.2

• Invasive aspergillosis affects people who have weakened immune systems, such as people who have had a stem cell transplant or organ transplant, are getting chemotherapy for cancer, or are taking high doses of corticosteroids. Invasive aspergillosis has been described among hospitalized patients with severe influenza.

What are the symptoms?

The different types of aspergillosis can cause different symptoms.

The symptoms of allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) are similar to asthma symptoms, including wheezing, shortness of breath, cough, fever (in rare cases). Symptoms of allergic Aspergillus sinusitis2 include, stuffiness, runny nose, headache, reduced ability to smell. Symptoms of an aspergilloma ("fungus ball") include cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath. Symptoms of chronic pulmonary aspergillosis include: weight loss, cough, coughing up blood, fatigue, shortness of breath.

Invasive aspergillosis1 usually occurs in people who are already sick from other medical conditions, so it can be difficult to know which symptoms are related to an Aspergillus infection. However, the symptoms of invasive aspergillosis in the lungs include: fever, chest pain, cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, other symptoms can develop if the infection spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body.

How to prevent aspergillosis?

Protect yourself from the environment by avoiding close contact to soil or dust and wearing N95 masks. If you are at high risk for developing invasive aspergillosis (for example, if you've had an organ transplant or a stem cell transplant), your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to prevent aspergillosis.

Testing for early infection: Some high-risk patients may benefit from blood tests to detect invasive aspergillosis.

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