December 18, 2008

CDC warns of the fungus histoplasmosis

Travelers working in histoplasmosis-endemic areas such as El Salvador should take protective measures, U.S. health officials said.

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said histoplasmosis is a fungal disease acquired from inhaling dust containing histoplasma capsulatum spores. The infection usually results in an asymptomatic or mild flu-like illness, but can result in loss of lung capacity.

In February 2008, the Pennsylvania and Virginia departments of health investigated a cluster of respiratory illness among members of three church mission groups that had traveled to El Salvador to renovate a church. Sixty-one percent of 33 mission members became ill after returning to the United States.

Certain activities -- sweeping and cleaning outdoors, digging and working in bird or bat roosting areas -- were associated with an increased risk of becoming ill, the report said.

U.S. health officials advise travelers and those involved in construction activities to use personal protective equipment and decrease dust-generation when working in histoplasmosis-endemic areas. Clinicians should consider histoplasmosis as a possible cause of acute respiratory or flu-like illness in travelers returning from endemic areas, the CDC said.