Fungi That Cause Lung Infections Now Found in Most States: Study

Lisa O'Mary

November 30, 2022

Soil-dwelling fungi that can cause lung infections are more widespread than most doctors thought, sometimes leading to missed diagnoses, according to a new study.

Researchers studying fungi-linked lung infections realized that many infections were occurring in places the fungi weren't thought to exist. They found that maps doctors use to know if the fungi are a threat in their area hadn't been updated in half a century.

"Recently, we are finding more cases of these diseases outside their known areas, taking clinicians and patients by surprise," University of California-Davis infectious disease professor George Thompson, MD, said in a commentary published along with the study.

Published this month in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the study sought to identify illnesses linked to three types of soil fungi in the United States that are known to cause lung infections. They are called histoplasma, blastomyces, and coccidioides, the latter of which causes an illness known as Valley fever, which has been on the rise in California.

Researchers used data for more than 45 million people who use Medicare and found that at least 1 of these 3 fungi are present in 48 of 50 US states and Washington, DC.

Symptoms after breathing in the fungi spores include fever and cough and can be similar to symptoms of other illnesses, according to the CDC.

The researchers said healthcare providers need to increase their suspicion for these fungi, which "would likely result in fewer missed diagnoses, fewer diagnostic delays, and improved patient outcomes."

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