Fungal Pneumonia

Abstract

Fungal pneumonia is an infection that affects the parenchyma of the lungs in human beings. Fungal pneumonia usually decreases the ability of the lungs to supply oxygen to other parts of the body. Fungal pneumonia is often confused with bacterial pneumonia because they inhibit almost similar signs and symptoms. Richardson and Warnock (2011) explain that fungal pneumonia is an infectious condition of the lungs that is caused by either endemic or opportunistic fungi that enter the body through inhalation of fungal spores.

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Fungal pneumonia can be endemic in nature. This implies that the disease can be caused by pathogenic organisms that are likely to cause infection in both healthy and sick people. In addition, fungal pneumonia can also be opportunistic. This implies that the fungi that cause the disease lives in the body of an individual, but does not cause any infection until the immune system of the person becomes compromised by other diseases such as diarrhea and cancer, after which the fungi cause fungal pneumonia infection.

Some of the most common endemic pathogens that cause fungal pneumonia include Histoplasma capsulatum, Blastomyces dermatitidis, Coccidioides immitis, and Paracoccidioides brasiliensis (Richardson & Warnock, 2011). According to Richardson and Warnock (2011), most of these endemic pathogens cause fungal infections in healthy people through direct attacks.

On the other hand, Ruhnke (2011) states that opportunistic pathogens of the Candida species, Mucor species, Aspergillus species, and Cryptococcus neoformans species may also cause fungal infections with impaired immune systems. According to Ruhnke (2011), most of these opportunistic pathogens often live in the body of an individual without causing any infections, but cause the disease when the immune system of the individual becomes impaired by other diseases.

Fungal pneumonia can be highly fatal in some cases thereby causing the death of the infected individual, especially if it affects older people. Richardson and Warnock (2011) also affirm that fungal pneumonia often affects young and healthy children, but can also affect older people, babies, and infants and people with highly compromised weakened and impaired immune systems. Ruhnke (2011) estimates that fungal pneumonia kills more than three million people every year in the United States of America with approximately 92% of the infected persons receiving medications and successfully recovering while 8% succumbing to death.

Causes of Fungal Pneumonia

Fungal pneumonia is caused by disease-causing pathogens in the body that affects the lungs of an individual. The disease-causing pathogens are usually inhaled as spores and enter into the body through the nose. In some rare cases, the fungal spores may enter into the body through injuries and cuts on the skin. The fungal pathogens that cause fungal pneumonia among individuals often vary from one individual to another and from one geographical region to another, for example, the pathogens that cause fungal pneumonia in the United States of America may be slightly different from pathogens that cause the disease in Southern and Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, Knox and Sarosi (2009) assert that this difference is unnoticeable because the pathogens belong to the same species. Therefore, when an individual inhales or takes in the air that contains germs that cause fungal pneumonia, the germs enter into the lungs and settle in small air sacs called alveoli in the lungs, rapidly multiply and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. The fungi may also penetrate into small spaces between body cells.

Although the body may not be able to prevent the entry of the germs into the body, it reacts by sending white blood cells to counterattack the pathogens. This results in the formation of fluids and pus in the alveoli sacs thereby leading to fungal pneumonia. Fungal pneumonia can also be caused by other related lymphocutaneous diseases such as coccidioidomycosis, cryptococcosis, HIV/AIDS, and blastomycosis.

According to Richardson and Warnock (2011), another major cause of fungal infections among individuals is increased occupational exposure to the fungal spores, for instance, caretakers who work with feces have higher exposure to the fungi; hence they are more likely to get infected by fungal pneumonia. Similarly, laboratory technicians who work in medical and research laboratories where the fungi are produced are also at higher risks of contracting fungal pneumonia.

Signs and Symptoms

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of fungal pneumonia include high fever that is often accompanied by dry coughs, inflammation of the lungs, difficulty in breathing that leads to wheezing, and chest pains. Fungal pneumonia is also characterized by body weakness and fatigue, nausea and vomiting, excess sweating especially at night, diarrhea as well as headaches. A patient of fungal pneumonia may also develop tinges that are bluish in color as a result of extreme infection by the disease.

According to Corrin and Nicholson (2011), the bluish tinges usually develop as a result of increased difficulties in breathing that lead to restricted and inadequate supply of oxygen in the body. The decrease in the supply of oxygen in the body also results in cyanosis. Cyanosis is the change of color of the skin to purplish or dusky color as a result of inadequately oxygenated blood. A person infected by fungal pneumonia may also suffer from muscle pains and cramps. In cases of severe infection, the patient may become unable to breathe thus need assistance to facilitate breathing and intake of oxygen into the body.

Prevention

Fungal pneumonia can be prevented by avoiding direct contact with infected persons and substances that carry the fungal spores. This can be achieved by wearing facial protection in order to reduce exposure to the fungi, for example, cavers should wear nose masks to prevent infections from bat guano when in the caves. Similarly, plumbers who mend broken water pipes and sewerage systems should also wear facial protections or masks in order to protect them from inhaling the fungi from feces. In addition, persons with impaired or compromised immune systems should seek medical assistance and be immunized to enable their bodies to become more defensive against infections by the fungi.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Fungal Pneumonia

The diagnosis of fungal pneumonia usually begins with a physical examination of the presence of the disease and a review of the signs and symptoms exhibited by the patient as well as a detailed analysis of the medical history of the person. The presence of fungal pneumonia can be suspected if the patient wheezes, experiences difficulties when breathing, and complains of chest pains and high fever. Wheezing and coarse breathing can be diagnosed using a stethoscope. If the signs and symptoms are not clear or less indicative, an X-ray examination for the chest can be conducted to confirm the presence of fungal pneumonia.

Maertens and Marr (2007) also affirm that an X-ray examination of the chest and blood tests may be carried out to validate an infection by fungal pneumonia during the diagnosis process. An X-ray examination would also help in establishing the location of fungal pneumonia and the extent to which the lungs have been affected. The location of the infection and parts of the lung that have been infected by fungal pneumonia can also be established through fiberoptic bronchoscopy.

Maertens and Marr (2007) describe bronchoscopy as the process by which a patient of fungal pneumonia is put under anesthesia and a flexible tube is inserted into his nose or mouth to facilitate direct examination of the parts of the lungs that have been affected by the disease. On the other hand, blood tests are carried out to measure the level of white blood cells count in the body in order to find out the severity of the infection and the type of fungi that have caused it. According to Maertens and Marr (2007), an examination of the sputum can also be conducted to determine the type of fungi that have caused the fungal infection.

Maertens and Marr (2007) further assert that fungal pneumonia is not very common, thus most physicians often test for other types of pneumonia first, such as bacterial pneumonia, which is more common. In severe spiral computed tomography cases of infection, the physician may conduct an open lung biopsy or thoracoscopic biopsy to diagnose fungal pneumonia. There are also new diagnostic techniques such as spiral computed tomography scanning (SCTC) and pulmonary high-resolution scanning (PHRC) that can be used to conduct a diagnosis of fungal pneumonia. However, Rocco (2012) argues that the high costs involved in acquiring appropriate medical types of equipment for these new techniques have hindered and held back their use in most health care institutions.

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The treatment for fungal pneumonia involves the administration of suitable antifungal medications and providing the infected person with supportive care to facilitate the effectiveness of the medications in the body. According to Richardson and Warnock (2011), immediate treatment for fungal pneumonia entails giving the patient a broad-spectrum antifungal to counterattack the fungi. Additional cultures of lung sputum from the patient are also collected and thoroughly examined to find out more specific and precise information about the infection and the causative fungi.

Patients with difficulties in breathing may also be given respirators and supplementary oxygen to enable them to breathe more comfortably (Knox & Sarosi, 2009). Severe infections of fungal pneumonia may require surgery to remove parts of the lung tissue that have been affected and to prevent the spreading of the fungi to other body organs (Rocco, 2012).

Summary

I would conclude by asserting that fungal pneumonia is one of the dreadful diseases that kill millions of people every year. The disease is quite rare and can be easily confused with other bacterial types of pneumonia. Therefore, detailed diagnosis is very important for persons that show signs and symptoms of fungal pneumonia. This would help in ensuring that the disease is accurately identified and properly treated. I would also recommend that more medical research studies should be conducted to find out the most appropriate and effective medications for fungal pneumonia.

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