Aspergillosis is caused by a fungus (Aspergillus), which is commonly found growing on dead leaves, stored grain, compost piles, or in other decaying vegetation. It can also be found on marijuana leaves.
Although most people are often exposed to aspergillus, infections caused by the fungus rarely occur in people who have a normal immune system. The rare infections caused by aspergillus include pneumonia and fungus ball (aspergilloma).
There are several forms of aspergillosis:
Pulmonary aspergillosis - allergic bronchopulmonary type is an allergic reaction to the fungus that usually develops in people who already have lung problems (such as asthma or cystic fibrosis).
Pulmonary aspergillosis - invasive type is a serious infection with pneumonia that can spread to other parts of the body. This infection almost always occurs in people with a weakened immune system due to cancer, AIDS, leukemia, an organ transplant, chemotherapy, or other conditions or medications that lower the number of normal white blood cells or weaken the immune system.
Symptoms depend on the type of infection.
Symptoms of allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis may include:
A fungus ball is usually not treated (with antifungal medicines) unless there is bleeding into the lung tissue. In that case, surgery is needed.
Invasive aspergillosis is treated with several weeks of an antifungal drug called voriconazole. It can be given by mouth or directly into a vein (IV). Amphotericin B, echinocandins, or itraconazole can also be used.
Endocarditis caused by Aspergillus is treated by surgically removing the infected heart valves. Long-term antifungal therapy is also needed.
Antifungal drugs alone do not help people with allergic aspergillosis. Allergic aspergillosis is treated with drugs that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressive drugs) -- most often prednisone taken by mouth.
With treatment, people with allergic aspergillosis usually get better over time. It is common for the disease to come back (relapse) and need repeat treatment.
If invasive aspergillosis does not get better with drug treatment, it eventually leads to death. What happens to a person with invasive aspergillosis also depends on their disease and immune system function.
Amphotericin B can cause kidney damage and unpleasant side effects such as fever and chills
Bronchiectasis (permanent scarring and enlargement of the small sacs in the lungs)
Invasive lung disease can cause massive bleeding from the lung
Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of aspergillosis or if you have a weakened immune system and develop a fever.
Be careful when using medications that suppress the immune system. Preventing AIDS also prevents certain diseases, including aspergillosis, that are associated with a damaged or weakened immune system.
Patterson TF. Aspergillus species. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 258.
Stevens DA. Aspergillosis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 360.
Walsh TJ, Anaissie EJ, Denning DW, et al. Treatment of aspergillosis: clinical practice guidelines of the Infections Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2008;46(3):327-60.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.