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

Histoplasma capsulatum/CDC

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

The doctors of the mycology laboratory warn that there is an outbreak of histoplasmosis that, until now, has been underreported in the victims, rescuers and anyone who was in the area of ​​the 2022 disasters in Aragua, Anzoátegui and the Capital District.

“There is a direct correlation between acute histoplasmosis infection and socio-environmental disasters such as the torrential avalanche that occurred in Las Tejerías 3 months ago,” explained Dr. Sofía Mata, director of the IMT-UCV medical mycology laboratory.

Image/Robert Herriman

Histoplasmosis (also known as Darling’s disease) is a systemic fungal disease that can range in severity from symptom-free to minor self-limited to life threatening illnesses. Infection is quite common but clinical disease is not.

The disease is seen in many areas of the world to include the Americas, Africa, eastern 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 starling, blackbird and pigeon roosts. The fungus multiplies in bird droppings and bat guano.

Disturbing these contaminated areas and the wind can easily transport infectious fungal particles. Infections in humans and animals are typically due to inhalation of the airborne fungus. It is not transmissible person to person.

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

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

Disseminated histoplasmosis is especially dangerous in immunocompromised individuals and can result in a rapidly fulminant disease. Over 50% of AIDS patients from endemic areas develop histoplasmosis.

Symptoms typically appear within 10 days but may be shorter in heavy infections.

Histoplasmosis can be diagnosed by chest radiographs and laboratory culture. A biopsy culture of the affected organ and blood cultures are best.

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