Fungal infection

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Fungal infection
Other names: Mycoses,[1]fungal diseases[2]
Human tongue infected with oral candidiasis.jpg
Aspergillosis (Radiopaedia 30275).JPG
Top: Superficial oral candida
Bottom: Systemic aspergillosis pneumonia
SpecialtyInfectious Diseases[1][3]
SymptomsWide ranging[4]
Usual onsetUsually slowly progressive[5]
TypesSystemic, superficial, subcutaneous[4]
CausesPathogenic fungus: dermatophytes, yeasts, molds[6][7]
Risk factorsImmunodeficiency, cancer treatment, organ transplant,[6] tuberculosis, COVID-19
Diagnostic methodMicroscopy, biopsy, culture
TreatmentAntifungal medication. Some require surgical debridement[4]
Deaths1.7 million (2020)[9]

Fungal infection, also known as mycosis, is disease caused by fungi.[3][10] Different types are traditionally divided according to the part of the body affected; superficial (in skin), subcutaneous (under skin), and systemic (other body parts).[4] Signs and symptoms range widely.[4] A fungal skin infection usually presents with a rash and includes common tinea of the skin, such as tinea of the body, groin, hands, feet and beard, and yeast infections such as pityriasis versicolor.[2][7] Fungal infection under skin include eumycetoma and chromoblastomycosis.[1][7] These may present with a lump and skin changes.[4] Systemic fungal infections are more serious, often present with pneumonia, meningitis and deep tissue damage; they include cryptococcosis, histoplasmosis, pneumocystis pneumonia, aspergillosis and mucormycosis.[2][4]

Fungal spores are usually found in the air and soil, but only cause infection in some people.[10] Infection can occur after spores are either breathed in, come into contact with skin or enter the body through the skin such as via a cut, wound or injection, or spread through blood.[4][10] Hence, a fungal infection usually begins in the skin or lungs, and then progresses slowly.[5] Although most fungi do not cause infection, fungal infection can occur in healthy people, but is more likely in a person with a weakened immune system, if taking medicines that suppress the immune system such as steroids, cancer treatments or medicines needed after organ transplant, in a condition that causes immunodeficiency such as HIV/AIDS, if there is a medical device such as an artificial joint or heart valve, or in someone who has a long stay in intensive care.[11][12] Taking antibiotics may allow a fungi normally present in the body to overgrow and cause infection.[5] Fungi that cause disease in people include yeasts, molds and fungi that are able to exist as both a mold and yeast.[4][6] The yeast Candida albicans can live in people without producing symptoms, and is able to cause both superficial mild candidiasis in healthy people, such as oral thrush or vaginal yeast infection, and severe systemic candidiasis in those who cannot fight infection themselves.[4] A fungal infection is rarely passed from person to person.[5]

Diagnosis is generally by clinical features and confirmed by culture and microscopical examination of a sample such as sputum, blood, or a sample from the lungs or other tissue by biopsy.[5] A blood test may be done to check for antibodies and antigens.[5] Medical imaging can help to evaluate the extent of disease.[6] Some superficial fungal infections of the skin can appear similar to eczema and lichen planus.[7] Treatment generally involves antifungal medicines, usually in the form of a cream, applied to skin, vagina or mouth.[5] More serious fungal infection may require medicines by mouth or injection.[13] Some require several months of treatment and surgically cutting out infected tissue.[4][5]

Worldwide, fungal infections affect more than one billion people every year.[8] An estimated 1.7 million deaths from fungal disease were reported in 2020.[9] Several, including sporotrichosis, chromoblastomycosis and eumycetoma are neglected.[14] A wide range of fungal infections occur in other animals, and some some can be transmitted from animals to people.[15]

Signs and symptoms

Most common mild fungal infections often present with a rash.[2] Fungal infections within the skin or under the skin may present with a lump and skin changes.[4] Less common deeper fungal infections may present with pneumonia like symptoms or meningitis.[2]


Fungal infections are traditionally divided into superficial, subcutaneous, or systemic, where infection is deep, more widespread and maybe involving internal body organs.[4] Superficial is sometimes separated into "superficial", confined to outermost layer of skin, and "cutaneous", also involving skin attachments; hair, nails.[8] They can affect the nails, vagina, skin and mouth.[16] Some types such as blastomycosis, cryptococcus, coccidioidomycosis and histoplasmosis, affect people who live or visit certain parts of the world.[16] Others such as aspergillosis, pneumocystis pneumonia, candidiasis, mucormycosis and talaromycosis, tend to affect people who are unable to fight infection themselves.[16]

ICD-11 codes include:[3]

Superficial and skin

Fungal infections in the skin include candidiasis, common tinea of the skin, such as tinea of the body, groin, hands, feet and beard, and malassezia infections such as pityriasis versicolor and seborrheic dermatitis.[4][7]


Subcutaneous fungal infections include sporotrichosis, chromoblastomycosis, and eumycetoma.[4]


Systemic fungal infections include histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, coccidioidomycosis, blastomycosis, mucormycosis, aspergillosis, pneumocystis pneumonia and systemic candidiasis.[4] Opportunistic systemic fungal infections include candidiasis, cryptococcosis and aspergillosis.[4]


Fungal infections might not always conform strictly to the three divisions of superficial, subcutaneous and systemic.[4] Some superficial fungal infections can cause systemic infections in people who are immunocompromised.[4] Some subcutaneous fungal infections can invade into deeper structures, resulting in systemic disease.[4] Candida albicans can live in people without producing symptoms, and is able to cause both mild candidiasis in healthy people and severe invasive candidiasis in those who cannot fight infection themselves.[4][7]


Fungal infections are caused by certain fungi; yeasts, molds and some fungi that can exist as both a mold and yeast.[4][6] They are generally everywhere and infection occurs after spores are either breathed in, come into contact with skin or enter the body through the skin such as via a cut, wound or injection.[4] Candida albicans is the most common cause of fungal infection in people, particularly as oral or vaginal thrush, often following taking antibiotics.[4]

Risk factors

Fungal infections are more likely in people with weak immune systems.[12] This includes people with illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, and people taking medicines such as steroids, immunosuppressive therapy or cancer treatments.[12] People with diabetes also tend to develop fungal infections.[18] Very old people, also, are groups at risk.[9] Other risk factors include having a medical device such as an artificial joint or heart valve, or having a long stay in intensive care.[12][5]

Individuals being treated with antibiotics are at higher risk of fungal infections.[19] Children whose immune systems are not functioning properly (such as children with cancer) are at risk of invasive fungal infections.[20]


During the COVID-19 pandemic some fungal infections have been associated with COVID-19.[21][22][23] Fungal infections can mimic COVID-19, occur at the same time as COVID-19 and more serious fungal infections can complicate COVID-19.[21] A fungal infection may occur after antibiotics for a bacterial infection which has occurred following COVID-19.[24] The most common serious fungal infections in people with COVID-19 include aspergillosis and invasive candidiasis.[25] COVID-19–associated mucormycosis is generally less common, but in 2021 was noted to be significantly more prevalent in India.[21][26]


Fungal infections occur after spores are either breathed in, come into contact with skin or enter the body through a wound.[4]


Diagnosis is generally by appearance, signs and symptoms.[6] Confirmation is by culture and microscopical examination of a sample such as a skin scraping, nail cutting, sputum, blood, urine, bone marrow, a sample of cerebrospinal fluid, or a sample from the lungs or other tissue by biopsy.[5][27] A blood test may be done to check for antibodies and antigens.[5] Medical imaging can help to evaluate the extent of disease.[6]

Differential diagnosis

Some tinea and candidiasis infections of the skin can appear similar to eczema and lichen planus.[7] Pityriasis versicolor can look like seborrheic dermatitis, pityriasis rosea, pityriasis alba and vitiligo. [7]

Some fungal infections such as coccidioidomycosis, histoplasmosis, and blastomycosis can present with fever, cough, and shortness of breath, thereby resembling COVID-19.[25]


Keeping the skin clean and dry, as well as maintaining good hygiene, will help larger topical mycoses. Because fungal infections are contagious, it is important to wash after touching other people or animals. Sports clothing should also be washed after use.[citation needed]


Treatment usually requires topical or systemic antifungal medicines.[13] Sometimes, infected tissue needs to be surgically cut out.[4]


Worldwide, every year fungal infections affect more than one billion people.[8][9] An estimated 1.6 million deaths from fungal disease were reported in 2017,[28] and 1.7 million in 2020.[9] Fungal infection of skin is the most common type of infection worldwide,[29] and one of the most common causes of skin disease.[30]

According to the Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections, every year there are over 10 million cases of fungal asthma, around 3 million cases of long-term aspergillosis of lungs, 1 million cases of blindness due to fungal keratitis, more than 200,000 cases of meningitis due to cryptococcus, 700,000 cases of invasive candidiasis, 500,000 cases of pneumocystosis of lungs, 250,000 cases of invasive aspergillosis, and 100,000 cases of histoplasmosis.[31] They also constitute a significant cause of illness and death in children.[32]


In 500BC, an apparent account of ulcers in the mouth by Hippocrates may have been thrush.[33] The Hungarian microscopist based in Paris David Gruby first reported that human disease could be caused by fungi in the early 1840s.[33]

SARS 2003

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, fungal infections were reported in 14.8–33% of people affected by SARS, and it was the cause of death in 25–73.7% of people with SARS.[34]

Other animals

A wide range of fungal infections occur in other animals, and some some can be transmitted from animals to people, such as Microsporum canis from cats.[15]


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