While there are many viral and bacterial infections that can be fatal, many parents are unfamiliar with a common infection known as Histoplasmosis. While rarely fatal, it is possible that Histoplasmosis can lead to life threatening complications when not diagnosed or treated promptly.
Often, in children, Histoplasmosis mimics the symptoms of the flu, with fever, night sweats, fatigue and nonproductive cough are persistent. The difference in these symptoms versus flu symptoms lies in the persistence with which the infection does not resolve, often lasting several weeks before healthcare professionals consider Histoplasmosis as a viable diagnosis.
To diagnose Histoplasmosis, the most effective tool is the examination of bone marrow cultures which, when infected with Histoplasma capsulatum, will be easily revealed on slide. However, because Histoplasmosis is such a rare complication in children, often, the pediatrician or infectious disease physician will not consider this as a first diagnosis.
Additionally, testing for Histoplasmosis often involves ruling out other health complications such as HIV, pneumonia and even cancer. Once these conditions are ruled out, the healthcare professional may then begin to pursue some of the more rare types of infections.
If you reside in Ohio or along the Mississippi Valley, your child’s risk for acquiring Histoplasmosis is significantly greater as the fungi enjoy living and breeding among areas within high humidity and varying temperatures. Areas where bat and bird droppings are present will pose the greatest health risk.
The diagnosis of Histoplasmosis is complex as it is not transmitted from person-to-person, only further complexing the diagnostic process. In many cases, the prolonged period of diagnosis leads to necrotizing, or a breakdown, of cellular tissues especially along the lungs, lymph nodes, spleen and even the bone marrow. It is this tissue breakdown, also known as necrotizing, that confuses the infectious disease specialists into diagnosing the complication as something other than Histoplasmosis.
Once confirmed as Histoplasmosis, most physicians will prescribe a course of IV administered antifungal medications, such as Amphotericin B, followed by several weeks of Sporanox administration. Because the disease leads to complications of anemia and liver toxicity, the risk for secondary complications is quite extensive, requiring further treatment.
AS the parent of a child who is suffering from unresolved flu-like symptoms, especially if you reside or have visited the Ohio or Mississippi River Valley, it is important to discuss the options for rare disease with your child’s healthcare professional. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, your child may suffer more complex long term health complications associated with Histoplasmosis, including the risk of death.