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What is cryptococcosis?

Learn the risk factors and symptoms of this fungal infection.

Cryptococcosis is an infectious disease caused by two species of fungus: Cryptococcus neoformans (found in bird droppings and soil) and Cryptococcus gattii (found in soil and in some trees). People get infected when they breathe in either type of the fungus.

The infection typically doesn't cause symptoms in people with healthy immune systems—they usually either fight off the infection successfully, or it remains dormant.

Most people who do become ill have weakened immune systems. Unfortunately, in this group the infection tends to travel to the brain and central nervous system, according to the National Institutes of Health. If that happens, the disease can be deadly.

Risk factors

Most people who get cryptococcosis each year have advanced HIV/AIDS or have other conditions affecting their immune system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In addition to HIV/AIDS, other diseases that can increase a person's vulnerability to cryptococcosis include Hodgkin's disease and sarcoidosis (an inflammatory disease). Certain drug therapies also increase your vulnerability. These include:

  • Long-term corticosteroid therapy.
  • Drugs to avoid organ rejection.

Symptoms and treatment

Cryptococcosis can travel to the lungs, the skin, or the brain and central nervous system.

Symptoms may include cough, fever, and, in some cases, a skin infection with bumps and sores.

If the disease travels to the brain and central nervous system, it can become cryptococcal meningitis. This brings with it headaches, confusion and disorientation, and sometimes death.

According to CDC, people who have symptoms of cryptococcosis should seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment involves antifungal medications.

Prevention

The fungi are very common, so they are hard to avoid. However, a blood test can detect C. neoformans in people with HIV before they have symptoms. Antifungal medication can then fight the infection before it turns into disease.

Reviewed 8/27/2021

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