Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are all around you. Most of the time, for most people, they do not cause sickness. The immune system stops them. But sometimes bacteria, viruses, or fungi can get into the body and make you sick. This is more likely if you are already sick with another illness or have a weak immune system. An infection that usually only happens to people who are very sick is sometimes called an opportunistic infection.
Fungi live in the air, soil, plants, and water. They are harmless most of the time. Molds and yeasts are types of fungi. Most people who get a serious infection from a fungus have a weak immune system. People who are most at risk include those:
With certain blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma
Who have had a stem cell transplant
Who have had an organ transplant
Who are taking some kinds of medicines, such as certain cancer medicines or steroid medicines
Having diabetes or extensive burns also can put you at risk.
The fungus can enter your body through cuts or breaks in the skin. It also can enter your lungs when you breathe in. Or fungus that is normally in your body and causes no harm can spread to your blood. For more information about this, see the section titled What is IFI?
Note that an IFI is not likely to spread from one person to another.
If you are already sick with another illness, getting an IFI or another infection can make it harder to fight that illness. Sometimes, doctors have to stop medicines for the original illness in order to treat an IFI.
The IFI itself can be very dangerous. But there are steps that your doctor may likely take to help reduce your risk. There are steps that you and your family can take, too. Family members and other caregivers can visit the section just for them, for more information.
Your doctor might give you medicine intended to help prevent an IFI or other infections. This is called prophylaxis. If this kind of medicine has been prescribed for you, make sure to take it exactly as your doctor says. For example, it is important to:
Take the medicine as often as prescribed
Take the amount of medicine that was prescribed
Take the medicine with food, if told to do so
Avoid taking the medicine with certain other medicines, if told to do so
You may need to take an antifungal medicine for weeks or months. The medicine may cause side effects or interact with your other medicines. Every medicine is different, so ask your doctor about the benefits and risks. Also ask about any side effects to watch out for. If you have questions about how to take your medicines, ask your doctor right away.
You may be taking many different medicines. It may be hard to remember when and how to take them all. Ask a family member or friend to help you.
Besides taking a medicine prescribed to help prevent IFI, there are other ways to help reduce your risk. Your doctor may explain ways you can reduce your exposure to harmful fungi when you are at home, such as:
Avoid gardening and exposure to plants, mulch, or cut flowers
Use a dehumidifier if your home is damp, to limit mold growth
Use an air conditioner during humid months
Avoid exposure to construction or renovation (because of dust)
Avoid mold in bathrooms, basements, and other areas
Avoid indoor swimming pools and saunas
There are other steps you can take to help reduce your risk of infection, especially if your immune system is weak. For example, you can:
Wash your hands often, and have the people around you do so, too
Be careful when handling pets; they also can carry germs
Try not to get cuts on your skin
Wash raw fruits and vegetables well before you eat them
Your doctors are likely to be constantly watching for signs of infection. They will be watching for IFI and also for bacteria and viruses. The first signs of infection are often fever and changes in your blood work. If you are in the hospital, your health care team may take your temperature or a blood sample often. If you are at home, you may need to go to your doctor’s office more often for tests. If there are signs of infection, your doctors may then do other tests to find out more. They will want to see whether there really is an infection, and what is causing it.
To find out more about a possible infection, your health care team may take a sample of blood or another bodily fluid and send it to a lab for testing. They also may look at your lungs or other areas of your body using an x-ray or computerizedtomography (CT)scan. All of these tests together can show what is causing an infection. If it is a fungus, the health care team will try to find out exactly what kind it is. Different types of IFI get different treatments.
Many drug makers have special programs for people who cannot afford their medicines. If you are worried about the cost of a medicine to help reduce the risk of an IFI, talk to your doctor. The maker of your medicine may have a program to help. You also may find out about the program on the Internet. You or a family member may wish to search the name of the medicine or the drug company along with the word “assistance” or “support.”
Your doctors are the best source for answers to specific questions about your health. But for more information about IFI in general, visit the other pages of this website, including the Questions & Answers section. You may also wish to view a short list of other helpful websites with information about specific types of IFI.
This website is funded and developed by Astellas Pharma US, Inc., and is intended for US residents only. The health information contained on this site is provided for educational purposes only and should not replace discussions with a health care professional. Astellas® and the flying star logo are registered trademarks of Astellas Pharma Inc.