|Chest X-ray: widespread rounded lung nodules throughout both lungs|
|Symptoms||Depend on the type of disease|
|Types||Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA); aspergilloma; chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA); allergic sinusitis; infection of the skin|
|Causes||Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus flavus, others|
|Risk factors||Lung disease, poor immune function|
|Differential diagnosis||Mucormycosis, nocardiosis, pulmonary eosinophilia, other types of pneumonia|
|Treatment||Antifungal medication, surgery|
Aspergillosis is a disease caused by Aspergillus, a common mold. There are several types including: allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA), inflammation of the lungs and allergic symptoms without infection; aspergilloma, an area of fungus in the lungs or sinuses; chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA), formation of a cavity within the lungs from infection; allergic sinusitis; and infection of the skin. Symptoms depend on the type of disease.
The most frequently involved species are Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus flavus. Most people breath in Aspergillus spores daily without getting sick. Illness generally only occurs in people with lung diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, COPD, sarcoidosis, or tuberculosis; or those with poor immune function such as during chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation, HIV/AIDS, or long term use of steroids. It does not spread between people. Diagnosis may involve medical imaging, tissue biopsy, or blood tests.
Treatment of allergic disease of the lungs or sinuses may involve the use of itraconazole and steroids. An aspergilloma may be managed with surgery or antifungal medications. Invasive disease may be treated with voriconazole, amphotericin B, or posaconazole. Among those with invasive disease, death may occur as a result in 25 to 60%.
Aspergillosis is uncommon. Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis is estimated to affect about 2.5 million people while chronic pulmonary aspergillosis affects about 3 million globally. Outbreaks of disease have been documented in hospitals. Invasive forms of disease are estimated to result in around 600,000 deaths a year. It can affect birds and other animals. The mold was first described in 1729 by Pier Antonio Micheli, an Italian priest.
Aspergillosis can be classified generally as allergic, chronic and invasive, or more specifically as allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, allergic aspergillus sinusitis, invasive aspergillosis, cutaneous (skin) aspergillosis, and chronic pulmonary aspergillosis.
Signs and symptoms
Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis can appear similar to asthma and present with wheeze, cough, difficulty breathing, and less commonly fever. Allergic aspergillosis affecting the sinuses presents with blocked or runny nose, headache and loss of smell. Azole-Resistant Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergilloma (fungal ball) may present with cough with or without blood and shortness of breath. Chronic pulmonary aspergillosis, with longterm involvement of the lungs may have additional weight loss and tiredness.
Invasive aspergillosis typically occurs in people who have other medical conditions and distinguishing which symptoms are from which condition may be difficult. It may present with chest pain, fever, cough with or without blood, and difficulty breathing. Poorly controlled aspergillosis can disseminate through the blood stream to cause widespread organ damage. Symptoms include fever, chills, shock, delirium, seizures, and blood clots. The person may develop kidney failure, liver failure (causing jaundice), and breathing difficulties. Death can occur quickly.
Aspergillosis of the ear canal causes itching and occasionally pain. Fluid draining overnight from the ear may leave a stain on the pillow. Aspergillosis of the sinuses causes a feeling of congestion and sometimes pain or discharge. It can extend beyond the sinuses.
Aspergillosis of skin can occur when Aspergillus enters the body through a break in the skin. Nodules and plaques may appear purplish, before developing an ulcer with tissue death and black eschar.
Most people breath in Aspergillus spores daily without getting sick. Illness generally only occurs in people with lung diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, COPD, sarcoidosis, or tuberculosis. Invasive aspergillosis is most common in people who have weak immune systems, such as people who have had a transplant, particularly a hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, or are on chemotherapy, and those who have conditions such as HIV/AIDS,leukaemia. These conditions tend to result in low white cells, which prevents the body in mounting immune responses against the fungi and thereby allowing uncontrolled growth of the fungal filaments. The immune system may be weakened by taking medications such as corticosteroids.
COVID-19-associated pulmonary aspergillosis has been reported in people who have severe COVID-19 and have been on ventilators.
Culture and biopsy
Whenever possible, a doctor sends a sample of infected material to a laboratory to confirm identification of the fungus.
On microscopy, Aspergillus species are reliably demonstrated by silver stains, e.g., Gridley stain or Gomori methenamine-silver. These give the fungal walls a gray-black colour. The hyphae of Aspergillus species range in diameter from 2.5 to 4.5 µm. They have septate hyphae, but these are not always apparent, and in such cases they may be mistaken for Zygomycota. Aspergillus hyphae tend to have dichotomous branching that is progressive and primarily at acute angles of around 45°.
False-positive Aspergillus galactomannan tests have been found in patients on intravenous treatment with some antibiotics or fluids containing gluconate or citric acid such as some transfusion platelets, parenteral nutrition, or PlasmaLyte.
Prevention of aspergillosis involves a reduction of mold exposure via environmental infection-control. Antifungal prophylaxis can be given to high-risk patients. Posaconazole is often given as prophylaxis in severely immunocompromised patients.
The current medical treatments for aggressive invasive aspergillosis include voriconazole and liposomal amphotericin B in combination with surgical debridement. For the less aggressive allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, findings suggest the use of oral steroids for a prolonged period of time, preferably for 6–9 months in allergic aspergillosis of the lungs. Itraconazole is given with the steroids, as it is considered to have a "steroid-sparing" effect, causing the steroids to be more effective, allowing a lower dose. Other drugs used, such as amphotericin B, caspofungin (in combination therapy only), flucytosine (in combination therapy only), or itraconazole, are used to treat this fungal infection. However, a growing proportion of infections are resistant to the triazoles. A. fumigatus, the most commonly infecting species, is intrinsically resistant to fluconazole.
Aspergillosis is thought to affect more than 14 million people worldwide, with allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA, >4 million), severe asthma with fungal sensitization (>6.5 million), and chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (CPA, ∼3 million) being considerably more prevalent than invasive aspergillosis (IA, >300,000). Other common conditions include Aspergillus bronchitis, Aspergillus rhinosinusitis (many millions), otitis externa, and Aspergillus onychomycosis (10 million). Alterations in the composition and function of the lung microbiome and mycobiome have been associated with an increasing number of chronic pulmonary diseases such as COPD, cystic fibrosis, chronic rhinosinusitis and asthma.
Society and culture
While relatively rare in humans, aspergillosis is a common and dangerous infection in birds, particularly in pet parrots. Mallards and other ducks are particularly susceptible, as they often resort to poor food sources during bad weather. Captive raptors, such as falcons and hawks, are susceptible to this disease if they are kept in poor conditions and especially if they are fed pigeons, which are often carriers of "asper". It can be acute in chicks, but chronic in mature birds.
In the United States, aspergillosis has been the culprit in several rapid die-offs among waterfowl. From 8 December until 14 December 2006, over 2,000 mallards died near Burley, Idaho, an agricultural community about 150 miles southeast of Boise. Mouldy waste grain from the farmland and feedlots in the area is the suspected source. A similar aspergillosis outbreak caused by mouldy grain killed 500 mallards in Iowa in 2005.
While no connection has been found between aspergillosis and the H5N1 strain of avian influenza (commonly called "bird flu"), rapid die-offs caused by aspergillosis can spark fears of bird flu outbreaks. Laboratory analysis is the only way to distinguish bird flu from aspergillosis.
In dogs, aspergillosis is an uncommon disease typically affecting only the nasal passages (nasal aspergillosis). This is much more common in dolicocephalic breeds. It can also spread to the rest of the body; this is termed disseminated aspergillosis and is rare, usually affecting individuals with underlying immune disorders.
In 2019, an outbreak of aspergillosis struck the rare kakapo, a large flightless parrot endemic to New Zealand. By June the disease had killed seven of the birds, whose total population at the time was only 142 adults and 72 chicks. One fifth of the population was infected with the disease and the entire species was considered at risk of extinction.
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