Microsporidiosis (cont.)

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What is microsporidiosis? What causes the disease?

Microsporidiosis is a disease caused by infection with microscopic organisms called microsporidia. Microsporidia are eukaryotic parasites that must live within other host cells in which they can produce infective spores. These spores cause microsporidiosis, a disease which is primarily seen in individuals infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Microsporidiosis can cause infection of the intestine, lung, kidney, brain, sinuses, muscles, and eyes. Although there are over 1,200 species of microsporidia, the most prevalent pathogens (disease-causing agents) in humans include Enterocytozoon bieneusi, Encephalitozoon cuniculi, and Encephalitozoon intestinalis.

How are microsporidia transmitted?

Microsporidia spores are released from the stool and urine of infected animals. A number of animals, including insects, birds, and mammals, can serve as reservoirs of infection for microsporidia. These spores are then consumed or inhaled by humans.

Once within a cell, the microsporidia develop and multiply, producing more spores. The infective spores are then released when the cell expands and bursts.

What symptoms does microsporidiosis cause?

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Although microsporidiosis can occur in people with normal immune systems, it is very uncommon. The symptoms of microsporidiosis primarily occur in people with immune-system deficiency, such as HIV-infected individuals and organ-transplant recipients. Microsporidiosis can cause intestinal, lung, kidney, brain, sinus, muscle, or eye disease.

Intestinal symptoms that are caused by microsporidia infection include chronic diarrhea, wasting, malabsorption, and gallbladder disease. In patients with AIDS, the chronic diarrhea may be extremely debilitating and carries a significant mortality risk. The majority of cases of intestinal microsporidiosis in AIDS patients are caused by Enterocytozoon bieneusi.

Lung symptoms may include a cough and difficult, labored breathing. A chest X-ray may show signs of inflammation, fluid, or cavities in the lungs.

Microsporidiosis can cause infection in the urinary tract, kidney failure, bladder inflammation, and bowel perforation. Microsporidia can also spread throughout the body to cause inflammation in the brain, pancreas, sinuses, and muscle tissue.

Eye infection with microsporidia can cause inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva (keratoconjunctivitis). Symptoms of ocular microsporidiosis may include eye pain, eye redness, or blurry vision.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/15/2014

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