Cryptococcosis, also known as cryptococcal disease, is a potentially fatal fungal disease. It is caused by one of two species; Cryptococcus neoformans and Cryptococcus gattii. These were all previously thought to be subspecies of C. neoformans but have now been identified as distinct species.
Cryptococcosis is believed to be acquired by inhalation of the infectious propagule from the environment. Although the exact nature of the infectious propagule is unknown, the leading hypothesis is the basidiospore created through sexual or asexual reproduction.
Cryptococcosis is a defining opportunistic infection for AIDS, and is the second-most-common AIDS-defining illness in Africa. Other conditions that pose an increased risk include certainlymphomas (e.g., Hodgkin's lymphoma), sarcoidosis, liver cirrhosis, and patients on long-termcorticosteroid therapy.
Distribution is worldwide in soil. The prevalence of cryptococcosis has been increasing over the past 20 years for many reasons, including the increase in incidence of AIDS and the expanded use of immunosuppressive drugs.
In humans, C. neoformans causes three types of infections:
Cryptococcal meningitis (infection of the meninges, the tissue covering the brain) is believed to result from dissemination of the fungus from either an observed or unappreciated pulmonary infection. Often there is also silent dissemination throughout the brain when meningitis is present. Cryptococcus gattii causes infections in immunocompetent people (fully functioning immune system), but C. neoformans v. grubii, and v. neoformans usually only cause clinically evident infections in persons with some form of defect in their immune systems (immunocompromised persons). People with defects in their cell-mediated immunity, for example, people with AIDS, are especially susceptible to disseminated cryptococcosis. Cryptococcosis is often fatal, even if treated. It is estimated that the three-month case-fatality rate is 9% in high-income regions, 55% in low/middle-income regions, and 70% in sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2009 there were globally approximately 958,000 annual cases and 625,000 deaths within three months after infection.
Although the most common presentation of cryptococcosis is of C. neoformans infection in an immunocompromised person (such as persons living with AIDS), the C. gattii is being increasingly recognised as a pathogen in what is presumed to be immunocompetent hosts, especially in Canada and Australia. This may be due to rare exposure and high pathogenicity, or to unrecognised isolated defects in immunity, specific for this organism.
Dependent on the infectious syndrome, symptoms include fever, fatigue, dry cough, headache, blurred vision, and confusion. Symptom onset is often subacute, progressively worsened over several weeks. The two most common presentations are meningitis (an infection in and around the brain) and pulmonary (lung) infection.
Detection of cryptococcal antigen (capsular material) by culture of CSF, sputum and urine provides definitive diagnosis. Blood cultures may be positive in heavy infections. India ink of the CSF is a traditional microscopic method of diagnosis, although the sensitivity is poor in early infection, and may miss 15-20% of patients with culture-positive cryptococcal meningitis. Unusual morphological forms are rarely seen. Cryptococcal antigen from cerebrospinal fluid is the best test for diagnosis of cryptococcal meningitis in terms of sensitivity.