Can Fungal Infections Be Deadly?

A fungal infection usually means an irritating rash or itch you’d dab some ointment on and promptly forget. But turns out a fungal infection can be a serious affair, with fatalities on the rise of late. Especially at risk are folks with a weakened immune system, be it as a result of poor nutrition, intensive chemotherapy, drugs that suppress the immune system, or the spread of diseases such as HIV.1

Forms Of Fungi

Of the many kinds of fungi, only three cause infections: yeasts, molds, and dimorphs. These in turn trigger three types of infections – superficial, subcutaneous, or systemic infections. Superficial fungal infections are very common and found on human nails, skin, and hair, causing a surface inflammation like athlete’s foot, thrush, and body ringworm. Subcutaneous fungal infections are caused by fungi that have the ability to grow in tissues under the skin if they can get through the skin barrier. Madura foot is one such example where the fungus can enter through an injury in the foot and destroy the ankle joint and the bones of the foot. Both superficial and subcutaneous infections, however, can be easily diagnosed and treated. Systemic fungal infections are the killers. These infections are mostly seen as opportunistic infections (in people whose immunity systems have been weakened), but can also occur as primary or endemic infections (affecting people whose immune systems have not been compromised as well).2


The Deadly Infection

Let’s take a closer look at the fungal infections that have the potential to be life-threatening. They either take advantage of a body weakened by another factor like AIDS, cancer, diabetes, medication, etc. (opportunistic) or could simply be a case of spores being inhaled and blowing up into an infection (primary or endemic).

Opportunistic systemic fungal infections manifest in people with a weakened immune system.3 Infections like candidiasis, aspergillosis, and mucormycosis can spread very aggressively and can often be fatal.4


Endemic systemic fungal infections are caused by dimorphs. These are molds that live in the soil, enter the body typically through the respiratory system, and become yeasts. These infections are fairly common and symptoms are low intensity – recurring fever, chills, and weight loss, to name a few. In an otherwise healthy individual, these could remain undiagnosed for months and manifest as meningitis, skin lesions, or joint infections. In an immunocompromised body, the effects can be fatal.5

Endemic infections are usually characteristic of certain geographical areas; for instance, histoplasmosis is found in mid-western America, while blastomycosis is seen in North America and Africa.6


Staying Fungus Free

The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention recommend avoiding environments and activities that may cause someone with lowered immunity levels to come in contact with infectious fungi. Bird or bat droppings, dusty construction sites, direct handling of manure or soil without gloves are a no-no. A bit of precaution can go a long way especially if your body is already fighting other battles.7