What is cryptococcal disease?

Cryptococcal disease is an infection caused by the fungus Cryptococcus. There are three main types of Cryptococcus that cause disease: C.gattii, C. grubii, and C. neoformans. Whereas C. neoformans and C. grubii cause illness mainly in people with weakened immune systems, C. gattii can cause illness in healthy people as well. The fungus can affect a person's lungs (pneumonia) or nervous system (meningitis). In rare cases, the infection can be fatal. Animals, including pets, also can develop cryptococcal disease.

Where is this fungus found?

C. gattii lives in the environment on trees and in the soil, and can be found in northwestern Washington State, although the full geographic spread is not fully defined. The fungus is also found in British Columbia, Oregon and California.

Outside of the North American Pacific Coast, it primarily lives in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world, particularly Australia and Papua New Guinea, and also parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America.

Does Cryptococcus gattii infection occur in Washington?

Although the infection is rare, the Washington State Department of Health receives reports of zero to nine people infected with C. gattii each year. Cases of disease in animals are also reported.

How are people exposed?

The infection is caused by breathing in the Cryptococcus fungus from the environment.

What are the symptoms of cryptococcal disease?

  • Cough that lasts weeks or months
  • Sharp chest pain
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Severe headache
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Unintended weight loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • neck pain

Please consult a health care provider if you experience these symptoms.

How soon do symptoms appear?

The length of time it takes for symptoms to appear is not well established. A few studies show that symptoms can appear between two and thirteen months after exposure to the fungus, with an average of six to seven months.

What is the treatment?

Cryptococcal disease can be treated with antifungal medication prescribed by a health care provider.

Can I get cryptococcal disease from another person or animal?

Cryptococcal disease can not be passed from person to person or from animal to person. A person with cryptococcal disease is not contagious.

How do I avoid getting cryptococcal disease?

There are no particular precautions that will prevent cryptococcal disease. The benefits of outdoor recreation and activities far outweigh the risks of acquiring cryptococcal disease. Remember that this is a very rare disease, but if you experience the symptoms listed above, see a health care provider.

Where can I get more information?

Call your local health department or the Washington State Department of Health.

More Resources

Notifiable Condition - Report Cyptococcus gattii