Human Fungal Diseases

Certain fungi can attack the tissues of living plants and animals and cause disease. Fungal disease is a major concern for humans because fungi attack not only us but also our food sources, making fungi competitors with humans for nutrients.

Mold spores can cause mild to serious allergies in some people. Mold spores can become airborne and may then be inhaled, triggering an allergic reaction. Sniffling, sneezing, and respiratory distress are symptoms of an allergic reaction. Some fungi can also infect and poison humans. Table 26-2 lists some human fungal diseases.

Common Fungal Infections

Fungi may infect the skin, hair, nails, and tissues of the body. For example, fungi on the skin can cause ringworm. Ringworm, as shown in Figure 26-9, can occur almost anywhere on the skin. Athlete's foot, another form of ringworm, occurs on the foot and between the toes.

Another fungal pathogen is Candida albicans. This yeast is commonly found in the mouth, intestine, and, in women, in the vaginal tract. Generally, C. albicans exists in balance with other microorganisms, such as bacteria that live in and on the body. However, if the normal balance of microorganisms changes, such as when some antibiotics are used or when pregnancy or illness occurs, C. albicans can flourish and cause a disease called candidiasis, commonly known as a yeast infection.

Other Fungal Illnesses

Serious fungal diseases that involve the internal organs are often caused by dimorphic fungi such as Histoplasma capsulatum, Paracoccidiodes brasiliensis, Coccidioides immitis, and Blastomyces dermatitidis. If the spores of these fungi are inhaled, they can cause severe respiratory illness and spread to other organs, sometimes resulting in death. They grow as a mold in soil, but at human body temperature (37°C or 98.6°F), they become unicellular. H. capsulatum often grows as a mold in the feces of birds and can become airborne and inhaled when feces dry out. In some people, the mold causes histoplasmosis, which is characterized by fever and respiratory problems that resemble those of tuberculosis.

figure 26-9

Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin. The dried skin that falls off a lesion is contaminated with fungal spores. These spores can infect other people and spread the infection.

Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin. The dried skin that falls off a lesion is contaminated with fungal spores. These spores can infect other people and spread the infection.

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