What Is Histoplasmosis

Histoplasmosis was first described in 1906 by an American physician named Samuel Taylor Darling who was working in Pamana. Darling initially thought the disease was a form of tuberculosis, but upon further investigation, he identified the causative agent as a fungus he named Histoplasma capsulatum.

Since then, histoplasmosis has been recognized as a common fungal infection in the Americas and is known to be endemic in many regions.

While most cases of histoplasmosis are mild and self-limited, severe and disseminated infections can occur, especially in individuals with weakened immune systems.


Causes of histoplasmosis

Histoplasmosis is caused by the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum. The fungus grows in soil contaminated with bird or bat droppings. When these contaminated materials are disturbed, the spores of the fungus can become airborne and be inhaled into the lungs of humans or animals. Histoplasmosis is most commonly found in the central and eastern regions of the United States, but it can also be found in other parts of the world.

Signs and symptoms of histoplasmosis

After inhalation of Histoplasma capsulatum spores, the spores can be deposited in the alveoli, which are the tiny air sacs in the lungs. The spores can then be ingested by pulmonary macrophages, which are a type of immune cell that is responsible for engulfing and destroying foreign particles and microorganisms that are inhaled into the lungs. 

After the pulmonary macrophages ingest the Histoplasma capsulatum spores, the spores can transform into yeast cells within the macrophages. The yeast cells can then multiply within these cells and travel to hilar and mediastinal lymph nodes, where they can gain access to the bloodstream and disseminate to various organs.

In healthy individuals with a normal immune system, pulmonary macrophages are usually able to effectively clear the H. capsulatum spores from the lungs, and the infection may not cause any symptoms or may only cause mild flu-like symptoms. 

However, in individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or who are taking immunosuppressive medications, the H. capsulatum spores may be able to replicate and spread to other parts of the body, leading to more severe disease.

The signs and symptoms of histoplasmosis can vary depending on the severity of the infection and the individual's immune system. Some people may not show any symptoms at all, while others may experience flu-like symptoms, including:

  1. Fever
  2. Chills
  3. Headache
  4. Muscle aches
  5. Dry cough
  6. Fatigue
  7. Chest pain
  8. Shortness of breath
  9. Sweating
  10. Loss of appetite
  11. Weight loss

In severe cases of histoplasmosis, the infection can spread beyond the lungs to other parts of the body, causing more serious symptoms, such as:

  1. Enlarged liver and spleen
  2. Skin lesions
  3. Bone pain and joint pain
  4. Ulcers in the mouth and throat
  5. Swelling of the lymph nodes

Management and treatment for histoplasmosis

The management and treatment for histoplasmosis depend on the severity of the infection and the individual's overall health. In some cases, histoplasmosis may not require treatment, as the infection may resolve on its own. However, for more severe cases, treatment may be necessary to prevent complications.

Antifungal medications, such as itraconazole, fluconazole, and amphotericin B, are often used to treat histoplasmosis. Pregnant women with histoplasmosis should not be treated with azole antifungal agents, which are commonly used to treat the infection in non-pregnant individuals, due to the potential teratogenic effects of these drugs on the developing foetus. Instead, amphotericin B is considered the treatment of choice for pregnant women with histoplasmosis, as it is known to be safe during pregnancy.

The duration and dosage of treatment depend on the severity of the infection and the individual's response to medication. In some cases, antifungal treatment may need to be continued for several months.

For people with severe histoplasmosis,hospitalisation may be necessary to provide supportive care, such as oxygen therapy, intravenous fluids, and monitoring of vital signs. 

Diagnosis of histoplasmosis

The diagnosis of histoplasmosis typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation, laboratory testing, and imaging studies.

  1. Clinical Evaluation: The healthcare provider will start with a physical exam and ask about your medical history, including any recent travel or exposure to birds, caves, or areas with high levels of bird or bat droppings
  1. Laboratory testing: Histoplasmosis can be diagnosed using several different methods, including culture, fungal stains, serologic tests and antigen detection

Although blood culture is considered the gold standard for diagnosing histoplasmosis, it does have limitations. One of the main limitations is the incubation period, which can take two to four weeks for visible colonies to appear in the laboratory. This delay in diagnosis can be problematic, especially in cases of severe or disseminated disease where timely treatment is crucial.

  1. Imaging Studies: Chest X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans can help identify signs of histoplasmosis in the lungs, such as nodules or cavities

It's important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have been exposed to the Histoplasma fungus and develop symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue, or shortness of breath. 

Prevention of histoplasmosis

Prevention of histoplasmosis involves minimising exposure to the fungus. This can be achieved by wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, when working in environments that may be contaminated with the fungus, such as caves, chicken coops, and bird roosts. It's also important to avoid disturbing soil or bird droppings in areas where the fungus may be present. People who are at higher risk of histoplasmosis, such as those with weakened immune systems, should take extra precautions to prevent exposure to the fungus.

Complications of histoplasmosis

Histoplasmosis can lead to a number of complications, especially in people with weakened immune systems or in those with chronic or disseminated disease. Some of the potential complications of histoplasmosis include:

  1. Chronic pulmonary histoplasmosis: This is a long-term complication that can occur in people who have had histoplasmosis in the past. It can cause scarring of the lungs and lead to symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue
  2. Disseminated histoplasmosis: This occurs when the infection spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body, such as the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, or bone marrow. This can be a life-threatening complication, especially in people with weakened immune systems
  3. Mediastinal granuloma: This is a rare complication that can occur in people with chronic pulmonary histoplasmosis. It involves the formation of a mass or lump in the chest that can press on nearby structures such as the trachea or oesophagus
  4. Adrenal insufficiency: This can occur in people with disseminated histoplasmosis if the infection spreads to the adrenal glands, which produce hormones that regulate the body's response to stress. Adrenal insufficiency can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and low blood pressure.
  5. Vision problems: In rare cases, histoplasmosis can affect the eyes and lead to vision problems such as blurry vision, blind spots, or loss of central vision


What can I expect if I have histoplasmosis?

The symptoms of histoplasmosis can vary depending on the severity of the infection and the individual's immune status. In many cases, people with histoplasmosis have no symptoms or mild flu-like symptoms that go away on their own within a few weeks. However, in some cases, histoplasmosis can cause more severe symptoms and complications.

How common is histoplasmosis?

In the United States, histoplasmosis is most common in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, where up to 80% of people have been exposed to the fungus at some point in their lives. However, only a small percentage of people who are exposed to the fungus develop symptoms or become sick.

Histoplasmosis is also found in other parts of the world, including Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In some areas, such as parts of Brazil, the infection is much more common and can affect up to 30% of the population.

Who is at risk of histoplasmosis?

Histoplasmosis can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, but it is more common in people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or other conditions that affect the immune system. People who work in certain occupations, such as construction or agriculture, may also be at higher risk of exposure to the fungus.

When should I see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if you have been in an area where histoplasmosis is common, such as the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys or certain areas of Latin America, Africa, or Asia, and you develop symptoms such as fever, cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue. People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of developing severe histoplasmosis, which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.


Histoplasmosis is caused by Histoplasma capsulatum fungus that grows in soil contaminated with bird or bat droppings. The fungus spores become airborne when disturbed and can be inhaled into the lungs. People who work with soil or have contact with bird or bat droppings are at higher risk. 

Healthy individuals with a normal immune system may not show any symptoms, while others may experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, dry cough, fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Antifungal medications are often used to treat histoplasmosis, but treatment depends on the severity of the infection and the individual's overall health. Diagnosis involves a combination of clinical evaluation, laboratory testing, and imaging studies, including culture, fungal stains, serologic tests, and antigen detection.


  1. A. Kauffman, Carol. „ Histoplasmosis: a Clinical and Laboratory Update“. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, t. 20, nr. 1, 2007 m., p. 115–32, https://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.00027-06 .
  2. Nakelchik, Masha, ir Julie E. Mangino. „Reactivation of Histoplasmosis after Treatment with Infliximab“. The American Journal of Medicine, t. 112, nr. 1, 2002 m. sausio, p. 78–79. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9343(01)00945-7.
  3. Guidelines for Diagnosing and Managing Disseminated Histoplasmosis among People Living with HIV. Pan American Health Organization, Washington (DC); 2020. PMID: 36475570.
  4. Wheat, Joe, ir kt. „Practice Guidelines for the Management of Patients with Histoplasmosis“. Clinical Infectious Diseases, t. 30, nr. 4, 2000 m., https://doi.org/10.1086/313752.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Maja Mandzikashvili

Master of Genetics, Public Health educator-Vilnius University.

Hi, I am public health specialist, working on educational projects for kids.
While self-love and healthy habits like exercise and a balanced diet can contribute to physical and psychological well-being, achieving a "perfect" body is subjective and can be unrealistic or harmful to pursue. All bodies are beautiful to me when they are healthy physically and mentally.
This is the approach to my daily practice in life and at work, I am trying to maintain and teach my pupils.
I am glad that through my articles I can share my knowledge and experience with others to promote healthy habits and prevent disease.

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