Fungal Infection

Table of Contents

A fungus is a type of microorganism or pathogen (for specificity) believed to have existed before man; it is suspected to be as old as the Earth itself.

Fungus exists in almost all kinds of the environment outside the body and also inside the body. Living in the air, soil, water, plants, growing on indoor surfaces, and in other organisms (regarded as hosts), fungi (plural for fungus) can be either harmless to other organisms, including humans, or harmful, causing severe infections.

Fungi are different from other pathogens because they possess a particular substance in their cell walls known as chitin.

Chitin functions similarly to cellulose and keratin, adding to the strength of the entire cell wall of a fungus and helping the organism retain its shape.

Some fungi classes, such as mushrooms, are edible, while infections from others like aspergillus can lead to life-threatening conditions.

Fungal infection is a ‘non-forechoice’ infection as it can affect anyone at any age, and they can present themselves on various parts of the body (both internally and externally).

Different types of fungi may cause various kinds of fungal infections. In many cases, fungi that are not usually found on or inside the body can colonize the body and lead to disease.

In other scenarios, harmless fungi that are typically found inside the body can multiply beyond control and result in an infection.

According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and prevention), 1.5 million fungi species have been discovered on Earth, and about 30 species of fungi can regularly cause disease in humans.

Still, statistics have recorded more than 600 species of fungi that have ever caused infections in humans. All these fungi can grow at body temperatures, reproducing by releasing spores into the air, spores that can be picked up from direct contact or even inhaled.

A fungi infection is known as mycosis, and it can be very contagious, most likely to infect the skin, nails, and lungs. A fungus can penetrate the skin, affects internal organs and tissues, and cause systemic disease (whole-body infection). 

The branch of science responsible for fungi and fungi infection study is the biology arm Mycology.

This branch of biology also studies the genetic, toxicity, and biochemical properties of fungi, their taxonomy, and beneficial tendencies to the Human community, both as a source of food, medicine, tinder, and entheogens.

Mycology also entails a field of phytopathology, the study of plant disorders or diseases, and these two disciplines remain closely associated because the vast majority of plant pathogens are fungi-related.

Signs of Fungal Infection

All fungi infection each have their typically unique symptoms they present. However, there is a common sign that is particular to all fungal infections in humans.

These common symptoms include the following:

  • Itching
  • Skin coloration changes, such as red and possibly breakage (cracks) or peeling of the skin.

Classification of Fungal Infection

Fungal infections can be categorized into three subcategories, they are:

Antifungal

This group entails various fungi strains that have been studied and successfully modified into drugs and medications to fight their own respective fungi infections. They are more than 88 types on this list.

But some common and usually recommended antifungal include:

  • Allicin
  • Abafungin
  • Acetic acid
  • Boric acid
  • Bifonzole
  • Candicidin
  • Chlormidazole
  • Crocodile oil
  • Mycobacillin
  • Medicinal fungi
  • Pecilocin

Animal fungal disease or Pathogenic fungi

This is a group of fungi infections that cause diseases in humans and other vertebrates.

Typical examples include:

  • Athlete’s foot
  • Aspergillus
  • Black piedra
  • Blastomycosis
  • Candidasis
  • Cryptococcus
  • Chronic pulmonary aspergillosis
  • Histoplasma
  • Stachybotrys
  • Conidiobolomycosis
  • Coccidioidomycosis
  • Deep dermatophytosis
  • Endotrhrix
  • Expthrix
  • Fungal meningitis
  • Fungemia
  • Lobomycosis
  • Onychomycosis
  • Oral candidiasis
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia
  • Scedosporiosis
  • Sporotrichosis
  • Tinea cruris
  • Tinea corporis
  • Tinea nigra
  • Tinea pedis
  • White-nose syndrome
  • Zygomycosis

Fungal plant pathogens and diseases

 This category contains fungal plant diseases and pathogens. There are approximately 1400 in total. These fungal infections affect plant alone (see citations for examples under this category).

Common Fungal Infections

To understand the biochemical mechanisms of fungal infections, we are going to hand-pick, as case studies, some common types of fungal infections that we can come across during our daily activities:

Yeast infection

Yeast infection

A common form of fungi overgrowth in women is vaginal yeast infections; it is typically caused by the fungi Candida albicans.

When Candida overgrows in the body, it disrupts the normal scale-balance of the bacteria and yeast in the vagina. The cause of this imbalance may be antibiotics, stress, poor eating habits, or hormonal imbalance.

Candida albicans can also infect the skin, mouth, gastrointestinal or urinary tract. Now it is normal for a small population to be present on the skin and in the body. But when an overgrowth occurs, it can result in serious yeast infections.  

Symptoms

When a yeast infection affects the throat, it is referred to as oral thrush. These thrushes are categorized as white patches formation in the mouth and throat.

Individuals undergoing prolong antibiotic therapy may develop this infection.

Other symptoms include:

Treatment

Treatment options may depend on the type of yeast infection a person has and whether the infection is regular or not. Oral antifungal medications can treat fungal infections.

These antifungal medications come in the form of pills, tablets, or mouthwash. Early detected, patients could use OTC products to treat vaginal yeast infections.

However, antifungal medications and vaginal suppository can prescribe by a doctor.

Probiotic supplements provide harmless bacteria that help restore the body’s microbial balance, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, which can be recommended probiotics from a doctor.

Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot

This fungal disease is also known as Tinea pedis. Athlete’s foot is a type of fungal infection that can affect the foot’s skin, and in some cases, the hands and nails.

This type of infection is a result of dermatophyte activities (a group of fungi that can survive in the warm and humid areas between the toes and fingers).

Athlete’s foot is particularly common among athletes and obese individuals (due to tight spaces between the toes).

Athlete’s foot can be picked up from contaminated surfaces, like the soil, a public shower, or locker room floors, and it can spread from one person to another.

Symptoms

  • Itching
  • Stinging
  • Burning sensations between the toes
  • Skin cracks, peels or form blisters

Treatment

Treatment of Athlete’s foot can be with several topical OTC (over-the-counter) antifungal medications. If these medications doesn’t provide relieves, doctors may prescribe a potent remedy.

Jock itch

Jock itch

This fungal infection is also referred to as Tinea cruris. Jock itch is a type of fungal infection that affects the skin on the groin area, and in some cases, the inner thighs and buttocks.

This infection is also caused by dermatophytes, which can thrive in humid and warm regions. It is seen to affect males more compared to females commonly.

However, females can also develop the infection.

Symptoms

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Burning sensation
  • Cracking of flaking skin
  • Skin color change
  • Rash (that worsens with exercise and sweating)

Treatment

OTC antifungal creams, powders, or sprays can be recommended for treatment at home and keeping the body’s regions clean and dry. If symptoms persist after two weeks of home care, the individual should see a doctor.

Ringworm

Ringworm
Medical Photo, leg, ringworm, tinea corporis, Skin

Ringworm is a fungal infection that also affects the skin and scalp of the head. Similar to Jock itch and athlete’s foot, it is dermatophytes related.

Ringworm grows on the skin, particularly in humid and damp parts of the body.

Symptoms

It typically begins as a reddish, itchy, scaly rash. In time, patches of ringworm spread and form red rings. Some other symptoms include:

  • Bald patches on the scalp
  • Ring-like patches with a redder outside edge
  • Thick, discolored, or cracked nails (if nails are infected)

Treatment

Like jock itch and athlete’s foot treatments, OTC antifungal creams, sprays, ointments, and gels can successfully treat ringworm infection. However, there may be a need for a prescription in more severe cases if the nails and scalp are infected.

Toenail Fungus

Toenail fungi infection is also referred to as Onychomycosis. It is a common type of infection that affects the toenails, fingernails, and nail beds.

Toenail fungus is also known as Tinea unguium.

Symptoms

A toenail fungus begins as a small light-colored spot on the nails. As it spreads, it changes the shape and color of the nails.

Overtime, toenail fungus causes the nails to become thicker and more brittle.

Common signs include:

  • Scaling under nails
  • Lifting off the nail bed
  • Thick or brittle nail
  • Flakiness or crumbling of the nail
  • White streaks under the nail

Treatment

Treatment of fingernail infections might takes weeks, and toenail infections might take a longer time to treat.

OTC medications are ineffective in this case, so that doctors may prescribe a nail lacquer, a brushed medication like nail polish, and oral administration of antibiotics. Preventive measures can also follow to avoid spreading since it is hard to treat.

Fungal Meningitis

Meningitis caused by fungi Cryptococcus neoformans, computer illustration. C. neoformans is a yeast-like fungus that reproduces by budding. An acidic mucopolysaccharide capsule completely encloses the fungus. It can cause the disease cryptococcosis, especially in immune deficient patients, such as those with AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). The infection may cause meningitis, and may also be located in the lungs, skin or other body regions. The most common clinical form is meningoencephalitis. It is caused by inhaling the fungus found in soil that has been contaminated by pigeon droppings.

Cryptococcus neoformans is a prevalent fungus. Its primary habitat includes soil and bird droppings.

Most persons are continually in contact with this fungus, but their immune systems are strong enough to prevent Cryptococcus from causing disease.

However, in a community with weakened immune systems, especially persons living with HIV (who have fewer cells than 100 CD4 cells), Cryptococcus can result in a severe infection called fungal meningitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord lining, and also that of the brain.

If not treated immediately, fungal meningitis can lead to a coma and even death. It can also result in systemic disease, infecting the lungs and other parts of the body.

Symptoms

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Visual impairments
  • Stiff neck
  • Skin lesions
  • Vomiting

Treatment

In several cases in HIV or weakened immune individuals, there is first a two-week regimen of amphotericin B (intravenous infusion) and 5-flucytosine (oral administration) administration.

Afterward, fluconazole is employed daily to prevent the disease from returning. The daily fluconazole administration can be stopped by the patient after one year of treatment.

In a milder outbreak of fungal meningitis, oral administration of fluconazole is often used from the beginning of treatment.

Risk Factors of Fungal Infection

Several factors can negatively influence the risk of developing a fungi infection. These factors range from environmental factors to internal body system activities during the exposure period to a fungus.

Some risk factors that tend to increase the risk of a fungal infection include:

  • Dampness and Humidity
  • Poor blood circulation: Any abnormal condition that causes poor blood circulation tends to raise infection risk. Poor circulation also hinders the body’s immune response and decreases the body’s ability to fight infections.
  • Menopausal status: Hormonal changes in postmenopausal women reduce the acidity of the vagina; this might increase the risk of a vaginal yeast infection.
  • Suppressed immune system: Persons with the suppressed immune system may be due to medications, nutrition deficiency, smoking, stress, or other immunodeficiency disease complications are at a higher risk of fungal infections.
  • Nail and skin injury
  • Certain medications: Medications such as antibiotics may destroy helpful bacteria that check-mates microbes’ balance in the body. When drugs shift this microbe balance, it allows fungi to thrive, free from competition. Other medications that increase the risk of a fungal infection include long-term use of corticosteroids and cancer treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation.

Prevention of Fungal Infection

A critical factor in avoiding fungal infections is good hygiene. Other preventive measures include:

  • Regular washing of hands, especially after using the toilet and coming in contact with animals.
  • The skin should always be kept clean and dry, particularly the folds of the skin.
  • Avoid using other people’s personal care products and clothing.
  • Wear foot wares in locker rooms, community showers, and swimming pools.
  • Clean gym equipment before and after use.

Summary

Fungal infections can be painful and spread fast without treatment. But with OTC medications or prescription antifungal creams can treat most of these infections. Observing preventive actions can be of great help in avoiding fungal skin infections. When OTC medications don’t work, see a doctor immediately to prevent severe complications of fungal infection.

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