Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection caused by Histoplasma capsulatum that grows in soil contaminated by bird droppings and bat guano. A person becomes ill when the inhaled spores cannot be neutralized by lungs.
Histoplasma capsulatum fungi are found worldwide and are endemic in parts of North America, Central America, and South America. African Histoplasmosis, caused by Histoplasma duboisii, occurs in West and Central Africa. Travellers undertaking outdoor activities such as spelunking, cave and mine exploring, as well as ecotourism are at increased risk of exposure to the fungus. Histoplasmosis is an occupational hazard for miners, construction workers, and farmers.
In the majority of cases, the infection is asymptomatic – persons do not exhibit symptoms – or presents with mild symptoms, usually 3 to 17 days after exposure. Symptoms include fever, headache, malaise, chest pain, night sweats, cough, and general weakness. Persons with pre-existing conditions or those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms like pneumonia, gastrointestinal bleeding, inflammation of the liver, heart, and brain, as well as ulcers of the mouth, tongue, larynx, and nose. Recovery usually takes 2 to 3 weeks, but the fatigue may last longer. Treatment includes antifungal medication and supportive care of symptoms. A person who was previously exposed to Histoplasmosis is not immune to subsequent infections.
Travellers should avoid exposure to soil contaminated with bird and bat droppings. If spelunking or undertaking cave exploration activities:
There is no vaccine or preventive medication against Histoplasmosis.
Information last updated: January 2020