Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection that primarily affects the lungs, and is caused by the inhalation of spores from a fungus named Histoplasma capsulatum. The fungus grows naturally in soils throughout the world particularly in soils that are rich in nitrogen. Histoplasma capsulatum thrives on bat or bird droppings. The organism can be transported on the feet, wings, or beaks of birds and contaminate soils, roosting sites and accumulations of bat or bird droppings within buildings. Birds do not become infected, and the fungus is not found in fresh bird droppings, however, the droppings are an ideal host which promotes the growth of the organism. Bats on the other hand, do harbour Histoplasma capsulatum, and even their fresh droppings can contain the fungus.
The symptoms of Histoplasmosis range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe, possibly fatal, lung infections resembling tuberculosis. Mild cases of Histoplasmosis often do not require treatment, while more serious cases are treated with a variety of anti-fungal medications. Histoplasmosis is not a contagious disease; it is not spread from person to person. The disease is acquired by inhaling the spore stage of the fungus.
To prevent Histoplasmosis infection, avoid situations where potentially contaminated materials can be disturbed causing spores to become airborne. Avoid areas where the fungus may be growing especially locations where there is an accumulation of bird or bat droppings.
Dust containing Histoplasma capsulatum spores can become airborne during construction, renovation, or demolition projects. Once airborne these spores can migrate a considerable distance and there is a potential for exposure to workers and bystanders or building occupants. Work activities that are at risk of disturbing materials that may be contaminated with Histoplasma capsulatum should not begin without a comprehensive pre-project risk assessment and exposure control plan. Member Contactors of the Hazardous Materials Association are very familiar with safe handling procedures required such as respiratory protection programs, protective clothing requirements, and engineering controls to suppress airborne contaminants.
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