The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared Aug. 14-18 as the very first Fungal Disease Awareness Week. Throughout the world, the prevalence of fungal diseases is a serious health issue. Fungal infections can lead to severe illnesses that can be fatal if left untreated. The CDC will be raising awareness about the signs and treatments for fungal diseases with the theme “Think Fungus,” so communities can help prevent the growth of fungal diseases.
Fungal Diseases: A Public Health Issue
According to the CDC, fungal disease is a serious health issue that poses a major public health threat. More than 300 varieties of microscopic fungi can get into the body and cause dangerous infections. Infections that lead to fungal diseases can be acquired in a variety of public locations, such as hospitals, highly populated community areas, and the natural environment. Fungal infections and diseases range from mild to life threatening. The CDC has classified fungal diseases into three major categories to highlight the most common risks of infection.
- Opportunistic Infections: The number of people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, people with HIV/AIDS, or those taking immune system weakening medications, is increasing on a global scale. Weak immune systems are susceptible to fungal infections such as cryptococcosis and aspergillosis.
- Hospital Associated Infections: Fungal infections of the bloodstream, such as candidemia, can spread in hospital settings due to changes in healthcare practices. New fungi can develop or even become resistant to drugs in hospital settings.
- Community Acquired Infections: Different fungi live in different geographical areas. These fungi grow and distribute with climate changes, such as temperature and humidity fluctuations. Coccidioidomycosis, or Valley Fever, is an example of an environmental fungal infection.
Fungal Infections: 10 Questions to Protect Your Health
The CDC has put together 10 questions to help people protect themselves against getting fungal infections:
- Where do you live and travel?: Different locations around the world have more infection-causing fungi than others. Depending on the location of residence or travel destinations, people are susceptible to different varieties of fungal infections.
- What types of activities do you do?: Certain activities lead to higher exposure to infection-causing fungi. Activities such as working with soil, cleaning after animals, and gardening can lead to contact with infectious fungi. A fun family hike into caves is another activity that can expose the body to infectious fungi.
- Do you have a dog or cat?: Animals carry particular infectious fungi, such as ringworm, that can be transmitted to their owners.
- Have you taken antibiotics in the recent past?: Antibiotics can lead to the development of fungal infections in both men and women, such as genital candidiasis or yeast infections.
- Are you taking any immune system-affecting medications?: Certain medications to treat conditions such as lupus can weaken the immune system and increase a person’s susceptibility to developing a fungal infection.
- Do you have HIV/AIDS?: HIV/AIDS greatly weakens the immune system, making it extremely difficult for the body to fight off infections. Someone with HIV/AIDS is at a higher risk of getting a fungal infection that could lead to dangerous health issues, such as cryptococcal meningitis.
- Are you going to be hospitalized?: Candida is a fungus that is naturally occurring within the gastrointestinal tract and on human skin. This fungus can easily find its way into the bloodstream in hospital settings, and it can cause a problematic fungal infection.
- Have you had a transplant?: Organ and stem cell transplants weaken the immune system immediately following the procedure. Due to the high susceptibility of fungal infection, antifungal medications are often prescribed to patients following transplant operations.
- Are you receiving cancer treatments? Chemotherapy and radiation treatments weaken the immune system while fighting cancer cells. Patients receiving cancer treatment are at high risk for fungal infection.
- Are you experiencing stubborn pneumonia symptoms?: If a patient’s pneumonia symptoms are not getting better with antibiotic treatment, it could suggest the presence of a fungal infection. To prevent dangerous lung infections, it is important to seek antifungal treatment if pneumonia symptoms are not improving.
During Fungal Disease Awareness Week, the CDC is taking action to educate the masses about the prevalence of fungal infections and diseases. By working to improve treatment methods and raise awareness about the most dangerous infections, we can work together to lower the public health burden of fungal diseases.
For more about infections, check out our article: “Germ warfare: What can you do to help battle hospital-acquired infections?”