Histoplasmosis: You may have it and not even know it


by Claudia Coffey


Posted on April 30, 2012 at 7:03 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 1 at 11:09 AM

(WHAS11) -- Many people may have never heard of Histoplasmosis, but for those living in this region, we inhale it every day.

Patients typically show no signs or symptoms, and will most likely live with it for the rest of their life without an issue.

That is not the case for Louisville native Patti Bright.

Bright is a cancer survivor, which left her immune system weakened and vulnerable for this fungus to attack her lungs.

“I felt like I had the flu, but it was different from the flu. I was running a fever which was normal with the flu, I had headaches which I never have,” said Histoplasmosis patient Patti Bright. “And I was also feeling dizzy when I would stand up. It was different. And it didn’t go away."

Doctors had to remove several lymph nodes in her chest, and she is on three months of treatments.

Not everyone shows Patti's symptoms.

Dr. Tanya Wiese, a UofL pulmonologist, has treated young men and women who were not immune-compromised, but were unable to fight it off.

 “I just had a young boy that was 19 and started coughing up blood. He ended up having Histoplasmosis. He had abnormal reactions. It started squeezing his lungs and cutting off his airways,” said Dr. Wiese. “So there are healthy people out there that get Histoplasmosis and don't respond in the proper way."

In rare cases, Dr. Wiese says it can result in death, but most people fight it off. 

It can show scarring or even calcification in a chest x-ray, which Dr. Wiese says is not a big deal.

So what is Histoplasmosis?

It is a fungus so small it is best seen under a microscope.

Histoplasmosis is dominant along the Ohio River valley.  It is found in soil and carried in bird droppings. It’s also prevalent around construction sites.

If you have been outside, chances are you have breathed it in.

WHAS11’s Claudia Coffey asked Dr. Forest Arnold, a UofL epidemiologist, about how you get it and how you can avoid it.

"It's in the soil. So if you don't like it, you just have to move. And it's not just on the banks of the river, this zone extends for hundreds of miles on either side of it," said Dr. Arnold.

Next time you go outside, you could be breathing more than pollen.

A lesson Patti Bright knows all too well.

“I don't know how you can avoid it. You can't go around through life wearing a mask," said Bright.