A fungal infection of the gastrointestinal tract that mimics cancer and inflammatory bowel disease appears to be emerging in the Southwestern United States and other desert regions, according to Mayo Clinic researchers in Arizona investigating the disease. The invasive fungus, Basidiobolus ranarum, is typically found in the soil, decaying organic matter and the gastrointestinal tracts of fish, reptiles, amphibians, and bats.
“The exact mode of acquisition of this gastrointestinal infection is unclear, although consumption of contaminated food or dirt is the favored hypothesis,” says lead author H.R. Vikram, M.D., consultant, Division of Infectious Diseases, at Mayo Clinic, where seven of the 19 U.S. cases studied were treated. “The infection is still considered so rare that no one had put together a complete description.” He adds that more study needs to be done to determine how this infection is contracted, what underlying diseases might predispose patients to this infection and how best to treat it. He emphasizes that early recognition is key to successful treatment.
Patients with this rare fungal infection had non-specific symptoms such as abdominal pain or a mass that could be felt on examination. Before a conclusive diagnosis of the fungal infection was made, most patients were thought to have an abdominal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or diverticulitis. Surgical resection of the area of involvement and prolonged antifungal therapy successfully treated most patients.
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