Bacterial and viral are the more prevalent and commonly discussed forms of meningitis, but one infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham says fungal meningitis stemming from Cryptococcus is the true “hidden epidemic” needing more attention — as it is deadly if it goes undiagnosed.

Cryptococcosis is a fungal infection caused by numerous species, two of which cause the majority of cryptococcal infections in humans and animals: Cryptococcus neoformans and Cryptococcus gattii, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both species can be found in soil throughout the world and cause infection once they are inhaled, particularly in people with weakened immune systems.

C. neoformans infections cause an estimated 1 million cases of cryptococcal meningitis per year among people with HIV/AIDS, resulting in approximately 625,000 deaths worldwide. C. gattii infections are more common in tropical and subtropical regions. In recent years, cases have emerged in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, and are currently under public health surveillance.

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Cryptococcus neoformans Image/CDC
Cryptococcus neoformans