A 59 year old male with a history of rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, non-small cell lung carcinoma presents to his rheumatologist. His joint pain has responded well to adalimumab and methotrexate, but over the past month his left elbow has become increasingly painful, despite multiple corticosteroid injections there. He does not report any fevers or chills. On physical exam, his left elbow is warm and swollen. Synovial fluid is aspirated and sent for gram stain and culture.
The yeast was identified as Candida parapsilosis, a common environmental species of Candida that is becoming increasingly prevalent as a cause of invasive candidal disease. It is easily transmitted by contact and is a source of nosocomial infections. It has the ability to form a biofilm and, thus, has a predilection for indwelling catheters and prosthetic devices. Highest-risk groups include immunocompromised patients, surgical patients, and very low-birth weight neonates.
The microbiology findings exemplify how fungi can be broadly categorized based on how they grow (as a yeast or a mold) in the host and in culture (a cooler environment). In this particular case, the initial gram stain (figure 1), representative of the phenotype in the host, demonstrates neutrophils with intracellular organisms with visible cell walls, suggestive of an active yeast infection with ongoing phagocytosis. The potato flake agar (figure 2) is also growing a yeast. Thus, the pathogen is classified as a yeast. In contrast, molds are characterized by the development of hyphae, which give them their classic “fluffy” appearance in culture (absent in this case). A clinically important subset of this group, the dimorphic fungi, are defined by a yeast phenotype in the host and a mold phenotype in culture.
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-Frederick Eyerer, MD is a 3rd 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.