Venezuela: Histoplasmosis outbreak linked to Las Tejerías avalanche

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The Institute of Tropical Medicine of the Central University of Venezuela (IMT – UCV) on December 5 detected at least 20 cases of histoplasmosis, a lung infection caused by a fungus, in the entire group of rescuers who worked on an avalanche in Las Vegas. Tejerias, in the state of Aragua in the north-central region of Venezuela, between October 14 and 16.

Histoplasma capsules / CDC

“We were able to detect the outbreak based on the epidemiological history of histoplasmosis: people breathe air in the disaster area without much protection. The spores are spread by movement,” explained Dr. Freddy Salazar, member of the Department of Medical Mycology at IMT – UCV and professor of microbiology at Central University. Earth and enter the respiratory system.

Mycology laboratory doctors warn of an outbreak of histoplasmosis that has not yet been reported in victims, rescue workers and anyone who has been in the 2022 disaster area of ​​Aragua, Anzoategui and the metropolitan area.

“There is a direct relationship between acute histoplasmosis infection and social and ecological disasters such as the avalanche that occurred in Las Tejerías 3 months ago,” explained Dr. Sofia Mata, Director of the IMT-UCV Medical Mycology Laboratory.

Photo/Robert Herrmann

Histoplasmosis (also known as Darling’s disease) is a systemic fungal disease that can range in severity from asymptomatic to mild, self-limiting to life-threatening. Infection is very common but clinical disease is not.

The disease spreads in many regions of the world to include the Americas, Africa, East Asia and Australia. It is rarely seen in Europe.

The fungus is found in soil with undisturbed bird droppings, in old chicken houses, in bat caves and around the perches of starlings, blackbirds and pigeons. The fungus breeds in bird droppings and bat guano.

Wind disturbance of these polluted areas can easily transfer infectious fungal particles. Infections in humans and animals are usually caused by inhalation of airborne fungi. It is not transmitted from person to person.

The majority of infections (90-95%) are asymptomatic or self-limiting influenza-like illness. Others may have symptoms associated with active lung disease. Night sweats, cough, fever and weight loss.

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In some people, the fungus spreads through the bloodstream to the spleen, liver, kidneys, mouth, eyes, or central nervous system.

Disseminated histoplasmosis is particularly dangerous in immunocompromised individuals and can lead to a rapid, fulminant disease. More than 50% of AIDS patients from endemic areas develop histoplasmosis.

Symptoms usually appear within 10 days but may be shorter in severe infections.

Histoplasmosis can be diagnosed by chest radiography and laboratory culture. It is best to perform a biopsy culture of the affected organ and blood cultures.

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