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Meningitis - cryptococcal

Definition

Cryptococcal meningitis is a fungal infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges).

See also:

Alternative Names

Cryptococcal meningitis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Cryptococcal meningitis is caused by the fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. This fungus is found in soil around the world.

Cryptococcal meningitis most often affects people with a weakened immune system. Risk factors include:

In people with a normal immune system and no chronic illnesses, it is a rare condition.

Symptoms

Unlike bacterial meningitis, this form of meningitis comes on more slowly, over a few days to a few weeks. Symptoms may include:

Signs and tests

Physical examination will usually show:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Fever
  • Mental status changes
  • Stiff neck

For any patient who is suspected of having meningitis, it is important to perform a lumbar puncture ("spinal tap"), in which spinal fluid (known as cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF) is collected for testing.

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Antifungal medications are used to treat this form of meningitis. Intravenous therapy with amphotericin B is the most common treatment. It is often combined with an oral medication, 5-flucytosine.

An oral medication, fluconazole, in high doses may also be effective against this infection, and may be used later in the course of treatment.

Expectations (prognosis)

People with AIDS who recover from cryptococcal meningitis need long-term treatment with medication to prevent the infection from coming back.

Complications

Amphotericin B can have side effects, including chills and stiffness, and sometimes kidney damage.

Calling your health care provider

Call the local emergency number if you develop any of the serious symptoms listed above. Meningitis can quickly become a life-threatening illness.

Call the local emergency number (such as 911) or go to an emergency room if you suspect meningitis in a young child who has the following symptoms:

  • Feeding difficulties
  • High-pitched cry
  • Irritability
  • Persistent, unexplained fever

References

Kauffman CA. Cryptococcosis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 357.


Review Date: 9/15/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Jatin M. Vyas, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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