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Fungal Infections

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How does the Orlando Dermatology Center define fungal infections?

If you have ever had athlete’s foot or a yeast infection, you can blame a fungus. A fungus is a primitive organism. Mushrooms, mold and mildew are examples. Fungi live in air, in soil, on plants and in water. Some live in the human body. Only about half of all types of fungi are harmful.

Some fungi reproduce through tiny spores in the air. You can inhale the spores or they can land on you. As a result, fungal infections often start in the lungs or on the skin. You are more likely to get a fungal infection if you have a weakened immune system or take antibiotics.

How do dermatologists treat fungal infections?

Fungi can be difficult to kill. For skin and nail infections, you can apply medicine directly to the infected area. Oral antifungal medicines are also available for serious infections.

Fungal tests are used to help detect and diagnose a fungal infection, to help guide treatment, and/or sometimes to monitor the effectiveness of treatment.

  • For many superficial skin and yeast infections, a clinical examination of the affected person and microscopic examination of the sample may be sufficient to determine that a fungal infection is present. The specific organism is not always identified. The doctor has several topical and oral antifungal treatment options and bases the choice(s) on practice guidelines and experience.
  • For persistent, deeper, or systemic infections, several tests may be used for diagnosis and monitoring.
    • Fungal cultures are used to identify the specific fungi present. Many fungi are slow-growing, so it may take weeks for results. Susceptibility testing performed on fungi isolated from a culture is used to determine which antifungal is best to use for treatment.
    • Tests for fungal antigens and antibodies may be used to determine if an individual has, or recently had, a specific fungal infection. They are more rapid than fungal cultures but only test for a specific fungal species, so the doctor has to know what fungal organism to test for. Many people have fungal antibodies from a prior exposure to the organism so that a single antibody test may not confirm the presence of a current infection. Sometimes, blood samples are collected 2 to 3 weeks apart (acute and convalescent samples) and tested to see if antibody levels (titers) are changing; the evaluation of these results may take several weeks.
    • Molecular tests may be performed to identify fungi grown in culture and sometimes may be used to detect a specific fungus directly in the sample collected.

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