Cryptococcosis is infection with Cryptococcus neoformans fungus.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Cryptococcus neoformans, the fungus that causes this disease, is ordinarily found in soil. It enters and infects the body through the lungs. Once inhaled, infection with cryptococcosis may go away on its own, remain in the lungs only, or spread throughout the body (disseminate).
In people with a normal immune system, the lung (pulmonary) form of the infection may have no symptoms. In people with weakened immune systems, the cryptococcus organism may spread to the brain.
Neurological (brain) symptoms begin gradually. Most people with this infection have meningoencephalitis (swelling and irritation of the brain and spinal cord) when they are diagnosed.
Cryptococcus is one of the most common life-threatening fungal infections in people with AIDS.
- Blurred vision or double vision (diplopia)
- Bone pain or tenderness of the breastbone (sternum)
- Chest pain
- Cough -- dry
- Skin rash, including pinpoint red spots (petechiae), ulcers, or other skin lesions
- Sweating -- unusual, excessive at night
- Swollen glands
- Unintentional weight loss
Note: People with a normal immune system may have no symptoms at all.
Signs and tests
Physical examination may reveal:
- Abnormal breath sounds
- Fast heart rate
- Mental status changes
- Stiff neck
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood culture
- CT scan of the head
- Sputum culture and stain
- Lung biopsy
- Spinal tap to obtain a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)
- Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) culture and other tests to check for signs of infection
- Chest x-ray
- Cryptococcal antigen test (looks for a certain molecule that the Cryptococcus fungus can shed into the blood)
Some infections require no treatment. Even so, there should be regular check-ups for a full year to make sure the infection has not spread. If there are lung lesions or the disease spreads, antifungal medications are prescribed. These drugs may need to be taken for a long time.
- Amphotericin B
Central nervous system involvement often causes death or leads to permanent damage.
- Infection comes back
- Permanent brain or nerve damage
- Side effects of medications (such as Amphotericin B) can be severe
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of cryptococcosis, especially if you have a weakened immune system.
Take the lowest doses of corticosteroid medications possible. Practice safe sex to reduce the risk of getting HIV and the infections associated with a weakened immune system.
ReferencesKauffman CA. Cryptococcosis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 357.
Reviewed By: 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.