Science simplified

By Reagan Oliver, Guest Writer

Three types of fungi that lead to severe lung infections are now widespread across the country. 

The fungus Histoplasm was initially widespread in the 1930s, with the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys being notable hotspots. Histoplasmosis infections are caused when the spores of the soil fungi are inhaled. 

The second type of fungi on the rise is called Coccidioides. Coccidioidomycosis was first discovered by a medical student in Argentina in 1892 and can be found in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and a more recent discovery, in south-central Washington. Alongside the southwestern U.S., it is commonly found in Mexico and South America.  In recent years, the fungi Coccidioides have found new life, thriving and spreading in forest fires. Coccidioidomycosis cases are caused when the smoke of the burnt fungus is inhaled. 

The last type of fungi is called Blastomyces. Blastomyces are most commonly found on horses, making Kentucky a hotspot for negative effects of the fungus.

Blastomycosis infections are caused when infectious organisms are inhaled by horses. However, Clydesdales are the only type of horse that carry this fungus. 

Histoplasma, Coccidioides and Blastomyces are commonly grouped as endemic mycoses of North America. Despite the history these fungi have, they have returned and are more widespread than ever. 

These fungi now are “a lot more common than we think they are,” Andrej Spec, an infectious diseases doctor and mycologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said.

  Doctors have been advised by the Infectious Diseases Society of America to screen for these fungi, even if the patient resides outside major infectious hubs, due to the seriousness of a missed diagnosis that could lead to death.