Although fungi are all around you, most people do not get sick from them. This is because of the immune system. The immune system stops the fungi from causing illness. But people who are already sick or taking some types of medicine, including steroids, can have a weak immune system. This makes it harder for the body to fight the fungi.
People who are at greater risk include those:
With certain blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma
Who have had a stem cell transplant
Who have had an organ transplant
Who are taking some kinds of medicines, such as certain cancer medicines or steroid medicines
The fungi may enter the body through cuts in the skin. Or you may breathe fungi into your lungs. Or fungi in your digestive tract that are normally harmless may spread to your blood. An IFI is sometimes called opportunistic because it takes advantage of people who are already sick.
The first signs of IFI are often fever and changes in your blood work. But these signs also could be due to a bacterial or viral infection. So your health care team may take a sample of blood or other body fluid or tissue. These samples go to a lab, where one or more tests are done. The health care team also may look at your lungs or other body areas with an x-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan. All of these tests together can show what is causing the infection. If it is a fungus, the health care team will try to find out exactly what kind it is. Different types of IFI get different treatments.
If you were already sick with another illness, having an IFI can make it harder to fight that illness. And if your immune system is weak, this fight can be even more difficult. Your doctors may treat both illnesses at the same time. But sometimes when a person gets an IFI, doctors will stop certain treatments that affect the immune system.
With the right treatment, many people can recover from an IFI. If a family member is helping you with your care, he or she can help you deal with the IFI. For example, if you are out of the hospital and taking medicine, it is important to take your medicine as prescribed by your doctor. Your family may be able to help you remember to do this. Family members and other caregivers can visit the section just for them, for more information.
Your IFI is not likely to spread to others. Although some fungi can live on the skin and might be transferred to other people, these fungi are unlikely to cause IFI in a person without risk factors for infection. (See Why did I get an IFI? above.)
You may already have a few doctors caring for you. One of these doctors may focus on infections. Such a doctor is called an infectious disease specialist. This doctor is sometimes called an ID specialist for short. He or she may lead your health care team to treat the IFI. Other members of the team treating your IFI may include:
General medicine doctor, such as a “hospitalist”
Nurse practitioner or physician assistant
One or more nurses, case managers, or social workers
You will probably be given a medicine to help stop the fungus. This is called an antifungalmedicine. If you are in the hospital, you may be given the medicine through an intravenous (IV) line into a vein. But some antifungal medicines also can be given as a pill. You may have to start treatment with IV medicine and then switch to a pill. Different types of IFI get different treatments.
Some people also need surgery to help get rid of their fungal infection. This depends on the type of infection you have and where it is in your body.
If your immune system is weak, your doctor may give you medicine that is designed to make it stronger. The purpose of this medicine is to help your body fight off the IFI.
Maybe not. It depends on how sick you are from the IFI and your other illness or illnesses. Your doctor may want you to take antifungal medicine in the hospital for days or weeks. If you get a little better, you might go to another health care setting or home. But you may need to keep taking the medicine for a while after you leave the hospital.
The antifungal medicine can help kill or slow the spread of the fungus. It may cause side effects. It may interact with other medicines you are taking. Every medicine is different. Ask your doctor about the benefits and risks of the medicine you are taking. Also ask about any side effects to watch out for.
You may need to take the antifungal medicine for weeks or months. The length of treatment depends on:
How sick you are
What other medicines you are taking
What type of fungus is causing the infection
Where the fungus is in your body
Do not stop taking your prescribed medicine without talking to the doctor first.
If you are prescribed antifungal medicine, it is important to take it as prescribed. Do not skip a dose and do not stop taking your medicine. If you are supposed to take it with food, be sure to do so. If you have any questions about your condition or how to take the medicine, ask your doctor right away. You may be taking many different medicines and it may be hard to remember when and how to take them all. Ask a family member or friend to help you.
Tell your doctor if you’re experiencing any new symptoms or if any of the following possible symptoms have gotten worse:
Fever of 100.5°F (38°C) or higher or chills
Cough or sore throat
Ear pain, headache or sinus pain, or stiff or sore neck
Sores or a white coating in your mouth or on your tongue
Swelling or redness, especially where a catheter enters your body
Urine that is bloody or cloudy, or pain when you urinate
Any other signs of infection
You should also talk to the doctor prescribing the antifungal medicine if you are thinking about starting any over-the-counter medicines or if you are prescribed any other new prescription medicines by other doctors. They can affect how your prescription medicines work. It’s important not to make any changes to any of your medicines without first talking with your doctors.
If you have more questions about your treatment be sure to talk to your doctor. And if you need help talking to your doctor, keeping track of your symptoms, or remembering your medications, this Discussion Guide may be helpful.
Many drug companies have programs for people who cannot afford medicines. If you are worried about the cost of your medicine, ask your doctor. The maker of your medicine may have this kind of program. You may also find information about the program on the internet. You or a family member may wish to search the name of the medicine or the drug company along with the word “assistance” or “support.”
Your doctors are the best source for answers to specific questions about your health. To help with your conversations with your doctors, you can download this Discussion Guide for people who have an IFI. For more information about IFI in general, visit the other pages of this website, including the Tell me more section. You may also wish to view a short list of other helpful websites with information about specific types of IFI.
This website is funded and developed by Astellas Pharma US, Inc., and is intended for US residents only. The health information contained on this site is provided for educational purposes only and should not replace discussions with a health care professional. Astellas® and the flying star logo are registered trademarks of Astellas Pharma Inc.