Flu and common fungus can kill otherwise healthy people, Bangkok doctor warns

A Bangkok respiratory specialist describes how the fungus we breathe every day can be fatal for sick people. Image: Sweetlouise/ Pixabay
A Bangkok respiratory specialist describes how the fungus we breathe every day can be fatal for sick people. Image: Sweetlouise/ Pixabay

Routine influenza and a chance fungal infection killed an otherwise healthy 57-year-old Thai man despite nearly 30 days of hospital care, a doctor warned this week.

Manoon Leechawengwongs, a respiratory specialist at the Vichaiyut Hospital in Bangkok’s Phaya Thai district, detailed the patient’s losing battle with his fungus-fueled illness in a lengthy online post Wednesday, warning people to exercise caution.

“This patient was infected with Influenza A, causing severe lung inflammation and respiratory failure. Though his condition slightly improved after he was treated with antiviral medications, he later got infected with fungi that live in our air,” Manoon wrote. “The infection was so invasive that it eventually took his life.”

Manoon said that, prior to catching the flu, the unidentified man was healthy with no underlying illness. He smoked about 10 cigarettes a day, he added. After visiting a sick friend in the hospital for several consecutive days, the man developed a dry cough, fever and fatigue. 

An initial X-ray found white blemishes in both of his lungs. The man also had extremely low oxygen levels in his blood, so he was admitted to the hospital. He was given a five-day treatment of Tamiflu, a common antiviral medication used to treat influenza.

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The first X-ray of the 57-year-old man’s chest. Image: Manoon Leechawengwongs FC / Facebook

For a while the prognosis was good. The patient’s condition gradually improved over two weeks before taking a turn for the worse on day 17 of his hospital stay.

The man had such trouble breathing he needed to wear a respirator, but it did little to oxygenate his blood. An X-ray revealed several bumps in his windpipe. 

More tests revealed that in addition to the flu, he had contracted two potentially dangerous fungal infections: Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus flavus. 

Though Manoon’s patient was treated regularly after the diagnosis, he died almost 30 days after he was first admitted.

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One of the bumps on the patient’s windpipe. Image: Manoon Leechawengwongs FC / Facebook

Aspergillus is a group of mold that lives indoors and outdoors, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. It is the most common type of fungi found in the environment. Though people inhale them regularly without becoming ill, those with lung diseases or weakened immune systems run a higher risk of infection. 

The CDC recommends those with weakened immune systems limit exposure and avoid areas with high levels of dust such as construction sites – or much of Bangkok, really – or wear N95 respirator masks. Guess all those masked people with the sniffles are onto something.

Anyone experiencing signs of infection should see a doctor. The earlier the detection, the better the chances of successful treatment.

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As of July 11, there were 192,445 reported cases of influenza this year. Fourteen were fatal, Manoon said, though he did not cite a source for the information. Most of the deaths occurred due to lung infections. 

As of noon Friday, Manoon had not responded to messages and calls seeking comment. 

Meanwhile a 2015 medical study estimated that nearly 2% of the population (about 1.3 million people) get fungal infections annually.

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Fumigatus and flavus are two different species of Aspergillus molds found in our environment. Image: Manoon Leechawengwongs FC / Facebook

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