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New NIOSH Method Offers Faster Way To Identify Risk For Job-Related Histoplasmosis

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
December 16, 2002

A new method developed and patented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention�s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers a faster way, at lower cost, to determine if workers are at risk of exposure on the job to fungal spores that can cause histoplasmosis, a respiratory infection.

Historically, the lack of a rapid, reliable, inexpensive analytical method has hampered the ability to identify the fungus in environmental samples, and consequently has limited the ability to reduce occupational risk in a timely way.

Histoplasmosis produces flu-like symptoms such as fever, chest pain, chills, cough, and joint or muscle pain. It also can result in a chronic lung disease that may worsen over time. In the severest and rarest form of histoplasmosis, the infection can spread to other organs outside the lungs, and the resulting illness is fatal if untreated and may be fatal even after treatment.

The fungus that causes histoplasmosis, Histoplasma capsulatum, is found widely in soil. It grows best where bird droppings or bat droppings have mixed with soil. Workers at risk of exposure include construction and demolition workers, bridge inspectors and painters, farmers, gardeners, chimney cleaners, workers who install and service heating and air conditioning systems, roofers, and pest control workers.

The new analytical method developed by NIOSH employs a DNA analytical technique, polymerase chain reaction or PCR, to identify the Histoplasma capsulatum fungus in a laboratory sample. The sample can be soil, dust, or other environmental materials from a work area suspected of being contaminated with the fungus. A laboratory analysis using PCR can be completed in less than two days at a cost of $60.

This compares with the traditional, multi-step method requiring the analysis of tissue cultures from laboratory mice. With the traditional method, it takes six weeks to complete one key step, and an additional several weeks to complete a final step, typically at a cost of several hundred dollars per sample.

The patent for the new method, �Rapid and Sensitive Method for Detecting Histoplasma Capsulatum,� is U.S. Patent No. 6,469,156. The method will be available for licensing from the CDC Technology Transfer Office. Details of the method are published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Probes (1999) 13:269-273. For further information about licensing technology, see the CDC Technology Transfer Office web page at

For additional information about NIOSH research and recommendations for preventing occupational illnesses, injuries, and deaths, call toll-free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit the NIOSH web page .