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Aspergillosis is an infection which mostly affects the lungs or sinuses, although any organ or system in the body can be involved. It is caused by inhaling the spores of a fungus called Aspergillus. Aspergillus fumigatus is a common fungus that grows on soil, plant debris and rotting vegetation in the autumn and winter. Rarely, the fungus may be found inside buildings, especially in air conditioning systems and hospitals.

Most people are either naturally immune to the spores of the fungus, or else have a sufficiently healthy immune system to fight any infection. People who have an allergic reaction to the spores, people with lung problems or a weak immune system are particularly susceptible. Both adults and children can be affected.

There are 3 types of Aspergillus infection:

  • Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA), also known as Pulmonary aspergillosis - the fungal spores trigger an asthma-type allergic reaction which reduces the efficiency of the air passages of lungs (bronchioles) causing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. People aged 20-40 with asthma are most at risk.
  • Aspergilloma - a growth in a pre-existing lung cavity caused by lung diseases such as tuberculosis, abscess, or sarcoidosis. The spores of the fungus collect in balls called aspergilloma causing cough, shortness of breath and bloody sputum (phlegm). This can also occur in the sinuses.
  • Invasive apergillosis – a serious lung infection affecting people with a damaged immune system, for example because of aids, chemotherapy, cystic fibrosis. It causes a pneumonia-like illness. In some cases the infection can spread to other areas of the body such as the eyes, heart, kidneys, brain and skin.