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Potentially life-threatening emergency
Aspergillosis in Adult
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed
Potentially life-threatening emergency

Aspergillosis in Adult

Contributors: Neil Mendoza MD, Paritosh Prasad MD, Susan Voci MD, Sumanth Rajagopal MD, William Bonnez MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


This summary discusses aspergillosis in adults and children. Cutaneous aspergillosis in premature infants is addressed separately.

Aspergillus, a hyaline mold, is found ubiquitously worldwide in decaying vegetation, soil, water, food, and plants. Inhalation of Aspergillus conidia into the lungs is the most common mode of acquisition. The varied pulmonary manifestations of infection depend to a large degree on the immune status of the host. They range from colonization leading to tracheobronchitis or a fungus ball to invasive disease in immunocompromised patients. There also can be an allergic response as with allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA).

Aspergillus tracheobronchitis, which occurs in lung transplant recipients, can be asymptomatic but may cause fever, cough, wheezing, and hemoptysis.

An aspergilloma, sometimes referred to as chronic pulmonary aspergillosis or mycetoma (fungus ball), is a solid clump of mold growing in a preexisting pulmonary cavity. This is most common in an immunocompetent host, developing more frequently in persons with structural lung disease. It presents clinically with cough and hemoptysis.

ABPA syndrome is characterized by transient pulmonary infiltrates and by exacerbation of dyspnea, wheezing, and cough in chronic asthmatics and occasionally in patients with cystic fibrosis.

Patients with prolonged and profound neutropenia (absolute neutrophil count < 100/mm3), those undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), particularly those with graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), patients on chronic high dose corticosteroids, patients with chronic granulomatous disease, solid organ transplant recipients (especially lung), and those on newer immunosuppressives such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha antagonists or T-cell ablative agents (alemtuzumab, antithymocyte globulins) are at risk for invasive disease. Recently, COVID-associated pulmonary aspergillosis has been described, but it is unclear if this is related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus or the steroid regimen that patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia receive for management. 

Invasive aspergillosis most commonly begins in the airway (sinuses or lungs), and dissemination can occur by hematogenous route or as a result of local extension. Dissemination can lead to central nervous system, liver, spleen, heart, bone, and skin involvement. Invasive pulmonary aspergillosis often presents with asymptomatic fever and incidental radiographic findings but can also present with dry cough, dyspnea, pleuritic chest pain, hemoptysis, or fever. These symptoms can resemble those of pulmonary embolism, reflecting the angioinvasive nature of the disease.

A locally invasive or semi-invasive form of the disease that lacks vascular invasion or distant dissemination is also recognized. This is an indolent process that develops over months or years, hence its other name, chronic necrotizing aspergillosis.

Cutaneous aspergillosis begins as red papules that form pustules. These pustules ulcerate and leave a central eschar evocative of the diagnosis.


B44.9 – Aspergillosis, unspecified

65553006 – Aspergillosis

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Diagnostic Pearls

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Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

  • Other invasive molds like Disseminated Fusarium infection and Scedosporium are impossible to distinguish based on morphology, and diagnosis requires a positive culture.
  • The molds belonging to the Mucorales order (especially Rhizopus), which cause Mucormycosis, may present with similar clinical syndromes but are usually distinguishable from Aspergillus based on morphology. Mucorales fungi are broad, nonseptate hyphae with branches at right angles.
  • In immunocompromised patients with pulmonary nodules, there are many infectious and noninfectious etiologies that are possible (an infectious diseases consultation is recommended). Some organisms to consider include Cutaneous nocardiosis, Atypical mycobacterial infection, Legionellosis, Cryptococcosis, and the endemic fungi. In some cases, Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia and even viral pathogens can present with nodular lung disease. Septic emboli are possible (especially in patients who may have indwelling central venous catheters). Noninfectious causes of nodular lung disease including Lung cancer should also be considered.
Differential diagnosis for cutaneous presentations:
  • Disseminated candidiasis
  • Mucormycosis and other opportunistic mycoses
  • Folliculitis
  • Ecthyma gangrenosum
  • Noninfectious causes of nodular skin lesions, including Acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis

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Drug Reaction Data

Below is a list of drugs with literature evidence indicating an adverse association with this diagnosis. The list is continually updated through ongoing research and new medication approvals. Click on Citations to sort by number of citations or click on Medication to sort the medications alphabetically.

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Last Reviewed:11/16/2021
Last Updated:11/16/2021
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.
Potentially life-threatening emergency
Aspergillosis in Adult
A medical illustration showing key findings of Aspergillosis (Invasive) : Cough, Fever, Pleuritic chest pain, Dyspnea, Hemoptysis, WBC decreased
Clinical image of Aspergillosis - imageId=57023. Click to open in gallery.  caption: 'An ulcer with a gray border and a surrounding pink plaque on the forearm.'
An ulcer with a gray border and a surrounding pink plaque on the forearm.
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.