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Monday, 7 May, 2001, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
City children carry infection
Pigeon
The fungus is carried by pigeons
A fungus that can cause central nervous system infections in adults has been found to be common in children living in US cities.

The fungus, Cryptococcus neoformans is an important cause of central nervous system infections in Aids patients.


Many children are being exposed to this infection, making it a potential cause of common childhood disease

Dr David Goldman, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the US have discovered that 70% of children over the age of five living in an urban environment have been infected with the fungus.

Among children between the ages of two and five, the infection rate was 50%.

The researchers say further work is now needed to find out whether infection with the fungus is associated with specific diseases.

They believe it could be possible paediatricians may be missing the true nature of conditions they are seeing that may actually be caused by the fungus.

More research needed

Lead researcher Dr David Goldman said: "We now need a study to define any symptoms associated with C. neoformans infection in children.

"Infection could be asymptomatic - or it could produce symptoms currently being confused with viral infections."

Pigeons are known to carry C. neoformans. The birds excrete it in their droppings, from which it can be inhaled by humans.

This could mean all children living in an urban environment may be a significant risk of infection.

Dr Goldman said: "We don't know the long-term consequences of infection.

"But it's clear from our findings that many children are being exposed to this infection, making it a potential cause of common childhood disease.

"Our goal now is to learn what occurs in instances of acute infection and to identify ways to combat it."

Dr Elizabeth Johnson, of the Public Health Laboratory Service's mycology reference laboratory, told BBC News Online that most people would be exposed to the fungus at some point in their lives as it thrived in pigeon droppings.

She said: "It is well known that it causes asymptomatic infection and can cause minor pulmonary infections which normally resolve themselves spontaneously without the need for treatment.

"It is only likely to a problem in individuals whose immune systems have been compromised."

The research is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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