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Blastomycosis Prevention and Risk Factors

Blastomycosis is a rare but dangerous disease.

People who live near fertilized farmland can be susceptible to blastomycosis. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
People who live near fertilized farmland can be susceptible to blastomycosis.

Although it's a rare disease, people should protect themselves from infection by learning about blastomycosis prevention and risk factors. The inhaled infection is caused by the fungus Blastomyces dermatitidis, which grows in rich, swampy soil. The disease occurs in one to two out of every 100,000 people who live and work in areas where the fungus commonly grows. Although cases are usually solitary, outbreaks can occur.

Identifying Blastomycosis Risk

The Blastomyces dermatitidis fungus is commonly found in the South-central, Southeastern and Midwestern United States. These regions tend to be cool, moist and humid, providing an ideal environment for fungal growth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fungus grows best in moist soil that contains decomposing organic matter. People in the aforementioned regions who are exposed to this kind of soil, which is commonly found in wooded areas and organically fertilized farmland, are most at risk for developing the infection. Certain occupations and pastimes also put people at risk for catching the disease, including farming, hunting and camping. The National Institutes of Health warns that blastomycosis usually affects people with weakened immune systems (e.g., patients with HIV or recipients of organ transplants). Men are more likely to be affected by blastomycosis than women.

Blastomycosis Prevention

One reliable way to prevent blastomycosis is through education. People with compromised immune systems should avoid areas where the fungus may grow. According to the Marshfield Clinic, the fungus most commonly infects people during spring, summer and fall. These are the times when people and other animals are most likely to disturb the soil harboring the fungus, exposing its spores to the air. People at higher risk for this disease who live in the areas where the fungus is common should avoid wooded areas during these seasons.

If avoidance is not an option, early detection is essential. Two important warning signs of infection are flu-like symptoms and coughing up dark or bloody mucus. The disease also can appear on the skin as a rash and skin lesions . If caught early, the disease can be easily treated with antifungal medications. If allowed to progress, however, the disease can affect organs like the kidneys, bladder, prostate and testes; in rare cases, it can spread to the central nervous system as a meningitis infection. Patients experiencing symptoms of blastomycosis should consult a doctor immediately to prevent more serious complications.

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