December 16, 2021

Fact Sheets Highlight Health Risks of Exposure to the Fungus Histoplasma

Two new fact sheets published by NIOSH provide employers and workers with information about histoplasmosis, an infection caused by the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum, which lives in the environment—especially in soil containing large amounts of bird or bat droppings. People can get histoplasmosis after breathing in the microscopic fungal spores. Symptoms of histoplasmosis can include fever, cough, and fatigue, and people with weakened immune systems or other medical conditions may be at increased risk of more severe infection. In severe cases, the infection can spread from the lungs to other parts of the body, the fact sheets warn.

CDC currently estimates that Histoplasma mainly lives in the central and eastern states in the U.S., particularly around the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. Job activities that involve the disruption of soil or plant matter or demolition, construction, or renovation can increase workers’ risks of being exposed to Histoplasma. Workers in industries such as construction and demolition; mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction; and agriculture and forestry have a higher chance of getting histoplasmosis.

NIOSH stresses that the best way to prevent occupational exposure to Histoplasma is to prevent the accumulation of bird or bat droppings in the first place. The agency’s fact sheets discuss site safety plans, the reduction or elimination of dust, worker training, and personal protective equipment as additional measures to help protect workers from exposure to Histoplasma.

Additional information about histoplasmosis can be found on the CDC and NIOSH websites.

Related: The September 2017 installment of “By the Numbers” in The Synergist focused on Valley fever, a disease caused by the inhalation of Coccidioides fungal spores, which are present in the soil of semiarid areas such as the Central Valley of California. In 2019, the California Department of Public Health announced that new cases of Valley fever had reached a record high.