May 8, 2001 The fungus Cryptococcus neoformans is an important cause of central nervous system infections in adults with AIDS. Now, in a surprising finding published in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have discovered that 70 percent of non-immunocompromised children over the age of 5 living in an urban environment have been infected with the fungus. Among children between the ages of 2 and 5, the infection rate is 50 percent. The vexing question now is: what exactly do these infection rates mean -- is this infection associated with specific diseases?
"We now need a study to define any symptoms associated with C. neoformans infection in children," says Dr. David Goldman, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Einstein and lead author of the study. "Infection could be asymptomatic -- or it could produce symptoms currently being confused with viral infections." In other words, pediatricians may be missing the true nature of conditions that they are seeing that, unbeknownst to them, are in fact caused by C. neoformans. If that scenario is indeed happening, successful treatment with antifungal medications that could take place are being missed.
Dr. Goldman notes that pigeons are known to carry C. neoformans, leading to the suspicion that urban youth in general may be at risk of infection. "We don't know the long-term consequences of infection," says Goldman, "but it's clear from our findings that many children are being exposed to this infection, making it a potential cause of common childhood disease. Our goal now is to learn what occurs in instances of acute infection and to identify ways to combat it."
The authors of the paper are Dr. Goldman, Dr. Hnin Khine, Dr. Jacob Abadi, Dania Lindenberg, Dr. Liise-anne Pirofski, Ramata Niang, and Dr. Arturo Casadevall.
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