Microbiology Case Study: A 24 Year Old Male with No Past Medical History Returning from Guatemala with Fevers, Myalgia, and Cough

Case History

A 24 year old male with no past medical history presented with fevers, myalgia, and cough following return from a 1-week trip to Guatemala where he spent significant time within caves. The patient described his cough as persistent, non-productive, and associated with mild shortness of breath at rest that significantly worsens with activity. In the emergency department, the patient was afebrile with a WBC of 10.2, Transaminitis, and chest X-ray showed diffuse reticular pattern. He underwent a bronchoscopy and BAL washout.

Laboratory Findings

Histoplasmosis Urine Antigen test came back positive.

Image 1. Fungal culture with white/tan, fluffy mold (growth at day 7).
Image 2. Scotch tape prep with tuberculate macroconidium. This mold was morphologically identified as Histoplasma capsulatum and sent to Mayo Laboratories for further confirmatory testing.

Discussion

Histoplasma capsulatum is an intracellular, thermally dimorphic fungus (grows as a yeast at body temperature/37°C in humans or culture media and as mold at 25°C in the environment/culture media). Histoplasma is found in soil, particularly in areas containing bird and bat droppings, such as caves. Within the United States Histoplasma in found in central and eastern states with a predominance in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. This fungus is also found in parts of Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Infection with Histoplasma capsulatum causes significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. Upon inhalation of conidia, H. capsulatum transforms into the pathogenic yeast phase. This form replicates within macrophages that carry the yeast from the lungs to other organs. Histoplasmosis has three main forms:

  • Acute primary histoplasmosis which presents as a pneumonia with fever, cough, myalgia.
  • Chronic cavitary histoplasmosis which is characterized by pulmonary lesions that often resemble cavitary tuberculosis.
  • Progressive disseminated histoplamosis that spreads to infect many organs in immunocomprimised patients.

In the laboratory, culture of blood, tissue and respiratory specimens may be completed. In addition, a test for H. capsulatum antigen is sensitive and specific when simultaneous serum and urine specimens are tested. It is important to note that cross-reactivity with other fungi (Coccidioides immitis, Blastomyces dermatitidis, Paracoccidioides brasiliensis, Penicillium marneffei) has been identified.

Growth on fungal culture shows white/tan, fluffy mold that turns to brown to buff with age. The organism may also produce wrinkled, moist, or heaped yeast-like colonies that are soft and cream when grown at 37°C on certain media. Scotch tape preparation of the mold form shows tuberculate macroconidia, a diagnostic structure of Histoplasma capsulatum. The mycelia are septate and produce microconidia and macroconidia. Yeast forms of Histoplasma capsulatum are small (2 to 4 μm) and reproduce by budding. These budding forms may be seen on histology specimens. A commercially available DNA probe can be performed on culture material to confirm identification.

Patients with mild-moderate histoplasmosis can often have resolution of their symptoms without treatment. Those with more moderate-severe disease require antifungal agents including amphotericin B or itraconazole.

-Nicole Mendelson, MD is a 1st year Anatomic and Clinical Pathology resident at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

-Christi Wojewoda, MD, is the Director of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Vermont Medical Center and an Associate Professor at the University of Vermont.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.