Severe Cryptococcosis

Severe Cryptococcosis: An Overview

Cryptococcosis is a fungal infection caused by Cryptococcus neoformans, a ubiquitous saprophytic encapsulated yeast. It is the most common fungal infection in HIV-infected individuals, and causes disease in a wide range of mammals and birds. It is also the most common systemic mycosis that occurs in humans, particularly in immunocompromised individuals like AIDS patients. Cryptococcosis can be a mild, localized infection, or it can be a severe systemic infection that can cause widespread tissue damage, organ failure, and even death.

Severe cryptococcosis typically manifests in two forms: meningoencephalitis and meningoencephalic disease. In meningoencephalitis, Cryptococcus neoformans gains access to the central nervous system via the bloodstream and then multiplies and invades the meninges (the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord) and the brain. This causes an inflammatory response, leading to clinical symptoms such as headache, fever, confusion, stroke-like symptoms, and seizures. Meningoencephalic disease, on the other hand, affects the deeper regions of the brain and involves inflammation of the brain’s white and grey matter and the resulting neurological deficits. This form of the infection is much more severe than meningoencephalitis and can cause coma, coma-like states, and even death.

Severe cryptococcosis is usually associated with heavy fungal burden in the brain, and consequently, aggressive therapy is required. Treatment may include antifungal medication, removal of large lesions, intrathecal injections of an various antifungal drugs, and in some cases, surgery. However, due to the severity of the infection, the mortality rate associated with severe cryptococcosis is estimated to be as high as 60%.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors associated with severe cryptococcosis. Immunosuppression is the most common factor, with AIDS patients particularly vulnerable to the infection. Other risk factors include diabetes mellitus, steroid therapy, an increased age, malignancy, and organ transplantation. Healthy individuals are rarely affected by severe cryptococcosis.


Severe cryptococcosis can lead to a number of complications, including:

  • Uremia: This is a condition caused by the accumulation of toxic waste products in the blood.
  • Encephalitis: This is an inflammation of the brain.
  • Meningitis: This is an inflammation of the meninges (membranes that line the brain and spinal cord).
  • Ventriculitis: This is an inflammation of the fluid-filled cavities of the brain (the ventricles).
  • Cerebral Abscess: This is an accumulation of infectious material in the brain tissue.
  • Sepsis: This is a potentially deadly condition in which the body’s chemicals become imbalanced, leading to systemic inflammation.

Prevention and Treatment

Severe cryptococcosis can be prevented by treating HIV infection, as this makes immunosuppression less likely. Treatment of severe cryptococcosis often involves antifungal drugs, such as fluconazole or amphotericin B. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove large lesions or ameliorate complications. In severe cases, patients may require intrathecal injections of antifungal drugs. However, even with aggressive treatment, the mortality rate associated with severe cryptococcosis is high.