Aspergillosis is caused by a fungus called aspergillus. The fungus is often 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 healthy immune system.
There are several forms of aspergillosis:
Allergic pulmonary aspergillosis is an allergic reaction to the fungus. This infection usually develops in people who already have lung problems such as asthma or cystic fibrosis.
Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis is a serious infection with pneumonia. It can spread to other parts of the body. This infection occurs most often in people with a weakened immune system. This can be from cancer, AIDS, leukemia, an organ transplant, chemotherapy, or other conditions or drugs that lower the number or function of white blood cells or weaken the immune system.
Symptoms depend on the type of infection.
Symptoms of allergic pulmonary aspergillosis may include:
A fungus ball is usually not treated with antifungal medicines unless there is bleeding into the lung tissue. In such a case, surgery and medicines are needed.
Invasive aspergillosis is treated with several weeks of an antifungal medicine. It can be given by mouth or IV (into a vein). Endocarditis caused by aspergillus is treated by surgically replacing the infected heart valves. Long-term antifungal drugs are also needed.
Allergic aspergillosis is treated with drugs that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressive drugs), such as prednisone.
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. The outlook for invasive aspergillosis also depends on the person's underlying disease and immune system health.
Health problems from the disease or treatment include:
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
Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.