Histoplasmosis from Bat Feces

What Is Histoplasmosis? Do Bat Droppings Carry The Risk Of Causing This Disease?

Histoplasmosis is a disease that results from inhalation of spores of the fungus Histoplasma Capsulatum. The fungus is found in the environment, and breathing in the microscopic, airborne spores from the fungus can cause lung infections. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other organs, such as the spleen or liver. In addition, scarring on the lungs as a result of the infection can cause lasting damage to the lungs, blood vessels, and other internal organs.



Who Gets Sick
Many people inhale the spores and never become ill. In fact, the majority of people who inhale the spores do not get histoplasmosis. Those with a weakened immune system, including young children, elderly people, and people who have a serious illness or disease, are more susceptible to infection from the spores. People who have chronic bronchitis or emphysema are especially at risk as their lungs are already in a weakened state. It is possible for a person who has had the disease before to become re-infected with the disease if the person comes in contact with the spores again; however, the body does build up some immunity after the first time, reducing the chances of reinfection by about 25%.

Symptoms
Symptoms of histoplasmosis range from non-existent to serious and can begin anytime from a couple of days to two weeks after coming in contact with the spores of the Histoplasma Capsulatam fungus. Some people experience no symptoms and never realize they have become infected with the disease. Other symptoms are mild, resembling flu symptoms. Mild symptoms can include chills, mild fever, aching joints, and a cough or chest pain that occurs when breathing deeply. These mild symptoms can last several weeks. On some occasions, the symptoms do not go away, resulting in chronic lung infection.

Symptoms of chronic lung infection as a result of histoplasmosis include shortness of breath, chest pain, a deep cough that is sometimes accompanied by bloody phlegm, and fever. On rare occasions, the body’s immune system may react to the infection, causing swelling from irritation and inflammation. This can lead to chest pain from swelling around the heart, headaches from swelling in the brain, neck stiffness from swelling of the spinal cord, and a high fever. If not treated at this point, the disease can be fatal.

Treatment
Treatment of histoplasmosis first requires a diagnosis of the disease. Since the mild symptoms resemble other common illnesses, it is often not diagnosed until the symptoms have progressed to those of chronic lung disease. There are multiple tests that can be used to diagnose the disease. The first test is to perform a fungal culture. A small sample of tissue, such as from the skin or liver can be tested. A fluid sample, such as blood or sputum, can also be used. The doctors test the sample to see if the fungus Histoplasma Capsulatam is growing on or in the sample. A urine test can also be performed to see if antigens to the infection are present in the urine. The final test for histoplasmosis is a blood test, where the blood is checked for Histoplasma antibodies.

If the test for histoplasmosis is positive, treatment will begin. An antifungal medicine, such as Itraconazole, is prescribed to kill the fungus. The treatment can last between 3 and 12 months, until tests show that the fungus is no longer in the body. Regular checks of the chest are usually performed for the duration of the treatment to ascertain the degree of damage to the lungs. In severe cases, chest imaging may be done for as long as 2 years past the time of infection to assure that the infection does not reoccur. Depending on the amount of damage done to the body as a result of the infection, other medications may be necessary as well.

Where Does It Come From
Bat and chicken droppings are the most common carriers of the fungus Histoplasma Capsulatum. Pigeons, starlings, and some other species of birds can carry the fungus as well. The high body temperatures of birds prevent them from actually having an infection of histoplasmosis from bats, but they can carry it on their bodies, and it can be present in their droppings. People who work with live poultry are very likely to come in contact with Histoplasma Capsulatum, and they should take precautions to prevent inhalation of the spores. Bats produce large amounts of guano, or waste, and the fungus is commonly found in bat guano.

While many bats are found in caves, bats can also infest a house. If not removed, the guano of the bats can cause corrosion to building materials, a terrible odor, and the risk of infection with Histoplasmosis. If a colony of bats invades a home, the size of the colony will quickly increase and more guano will be produced. Live exclusion of the bats is the only way to remove the bats permanently. After the bats are removed, the area where the colony lived must be thoroughly cleansed to remove all traces of the guano, eliminating the risk of infection from the fungus.

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Go back to my main bats in the attic home page. One other potential concern with bats in the house is bat bugs - although they are rare.

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