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Side Effect: Invasive Fungal Infection

What is an invasive fungal infection?

An invasive fungal infection (IFI) is a serious infection caused by fungi that can invade and spread within the blood as well as tissues of the body, often affecting internal organs. These infections are particularly dangerous in individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing cancer treatment, organ transplant recipients, or individuals with HIV/AIDS that is uncontrolled by antiviral medications.

IFIs can be life-threatening, especially for individuals with compromised immune systems. They often present as a result of the opportunistic nature of certain fungi that can take advantage of a weakened immune system or other underlying medical conditions.

What does an invasive fungal infection look and feel like?

The symptoms of an IFI can vary depending on the type of fungus and the organs involved. Common signs may include fever, chills, cough, chest pain, sinus pain or congestion, skin lesions, and other systemic symptoms. In some cases, there may be visible signs of infection, such as skin rashes or lesions. Fungal infections may rarely affect the eyes or brain.

IFI symptoms can be non-specific and may include feelings of malaise, weakness, fatigue, and discomfort. As the infection progresses, patients may experience more severe symptoms related to the affected organs.

Invasive Fungal Infection

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Who gets invasive fungal infections?

Individuals with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for IFIs. This includes patients with cancer receiving chemotherapy, as well as bone marrow or stem cell transplant recipients, due to the suppression of their immune system by the cancer itself and the treatments used to combat it. Neutropenia, a condition characterized by a low count of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell), often occurs in cancer patients due to chemotherapy, making them more susceptible to fungal infections. Individuals with HIV/AIDS and patients taking immunosuppressant medications to prevent rejection after solid organ transplant (such as a kidney, liver, heart, or lung transplant) can be at higher risk of developing an IFI as well.

Types of fungi that can cause an invasive fungal infection:

How do you prevent an invasive fungal infection?

Preventing IFIs in cancer patients involves a combination of strategies:

Antifungal Prophylaxis: This involves administering antifungal medications to at-risk patients to prevent the development of fungal infections. The choice of antifungal agent and duration of prophylaxis will depend on the specific patient population and their risk factors. Commonly used antifungal medications include:

Environmental Measures: Maintaining a clean environment, particularly in healthcare settings, is crucial for preventing fungal infections. This includes practices such as regular cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and air filtration.

Personal Hygiene: Practicing good personal hygiene, including handwashing and proper wound care, can help reduce the risk of fungal infections.

Isolation Precautions: In some cases, patients with very low functioning immune systems infections may need to be isolated until their immune system recovers to prevent them from getting a fungal infection.

How do you treat an invasive fungal infection in cancer patients?

Treatment of IFIs in patients with cancer involves the use of antifungal medications. The choice of antifungal agent will depend on the specific fungus involved and the patient's clinical condition. Specific medications may include:

In some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to remove infected tissue. The management of IFIs in cancer patients is a complex and individualized process, and the choice of antifungal therapy should be guided by expert medical opinion, such as from an infectious disease physician.

For specific treatment guidelines and protocols, it is best to refer to the latest publications and guidelines from authoritative sources like the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) or the European Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID). Please note that while these references provide valuable information, it's always important to consult with a healthcare professional for specific medical advice and treatment.



1) Pappas PG, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Candidiasis: 2016 Update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2016;62(4):e1-e50

2) Cornely OA, et al. ESCMID and ECMM joint clinical guidelines for the diagnosis and management of mucormycosis 2013. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2014;20 Suppl 3:5-26

Created: February 12, 2024 Updated: February 15, 2024