Brazilian Journal of Pulmonology

ISSN (on-line): 1806-3756 | ISSN (printed): 1806-3713


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Current Issue: 2005 - Volume 31 - Number 2 (March/April)


Coexistence of intracavitary fungal colonization (fungus ball) and active tuberculosis

Coexistência de colonização fúngica intracavitária (bola fúngica) e tuberculose ativa


Gisela Unis; Pedro Dornelles Picon; Luiz Carlos Severo



Background: Although pulmonary tuberculosis is the principal predisposing factor for intracavitary fungal colonization, the coexistence of the two diseases is rare. Simultaneity of fungal colonization and active mycobacteriosis in the same cavity (acid-fast bacilli found among hyphal masses) is highly unusual.

Objective: To describe clinical findings, diagnostic procedures, radiographic aspects, accompanying conditions and evolution in patients with tuberculosis and fungus ball.

Method: We reviewed, retrospectively, the records of 625 patients diagnosed with fungus ball between 1974 and 2002. All of the patients had been diagnosed through immunodiffusion or mycological study, or both. The inclusion criterion was positivity for acid-fast bacilli in sputum smear microscopy or histopathology.

Results: The charts of 14 patients were selected. All had presented hemoptysis, followed by productive cough, dyspnea, weight loss, fever, asthenia and chest pain. In one patient colonized by Aspergillus niger and in another colonized by Scedosporium apiospermum (Teleomorph, Pseudallescheria boydii), active tuberculosis was seen concomitant to the fungus ball. In the remaining cases, the mycobacteria were found in the adjacent parenchyma or in the contralateral lung.

Conclusion: This study corrobates the assertion that antagonism exists between Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Aspergillus fumigatus. The potential for fungal colonization and mycobacteriosis to occur concomitantly is demonstrated in other fungal agents, S. apiospermum (P. boydii) and A. niger in particular.



Introdução: Embora a tuberculose pulmonar seja o principal fator predisponente para o surgimento de colonização fúngica em cavidade saneada, a coexistência das duas doenças é rara. A simultaneidade de colonização fúngica e micobacteriose ativa na mesma cavidade (bacilos álcool-ácido resistentes entre as massas de hifas) é excepcional.

Objetivo: Descrever achados clínicos, diagnósticos, radiológicos, condições associadas e evolução em pacientes com tuberculose e colonização fúngica intracavitária pulmonar.

Método: Foram avaliadas, retrospectivamente, fichas clínicas de 625 pacientes, entre os anos de 1974 e 2002, com bola fúngica diagnosticada por imunodifusão e/ou estudo micológico. O critério de inclusão foi baciloscopia positiva no escarro ou em histopatologia.

Resultados: Foram selecionados catorze pacientes. Todos apresentaram hemoptise, seguida de tosse com expectoração, dispnéia, emagrecimento, febre, astenia e dor torácica. Em dois casos, um colonizado por Aspergillus niger e outro por Scedosporium apiospermum (Teleomorfo, Pseudallescheria boydii), houve concomitância lesional da tuberculose ativa e bola fúngica. Nos demais, a micobactéria foi encontrada em parênquima circunjacente ou em pulmão contralateral.

Conclusão: Este estudo corrobora o antagonismo entre A. fumigatus e Mycobacterium tuberculosis. A possibilidade de concomitância de colonização fúngica e micobacteriose é demonstrada em outros agentes fúngicos, particularmente S. apiospermum (P. boydii) e A. niger.



Keywords: Key words: Aspergillosis. Aspergillus fumigatus. Aspergillus niger. Pseudallescheria. Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Scedosporium apiospermum.


Palavras-chave: Descritores: Bola fúngica. Aspergillus fumigatus. Aspergillus niger. Pseudallescheria boydii. Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Scedosporium apiospermum.




The predominant etiologic agent of pulmonary intracavitary fungal colonization (fungus ball) is Aspergillus fumigatus, and a healed tuberculous cavity is the principal predisposing factor. In the latter, pericavitary fibrosis and endocavitary epithelization, which derives from the bronchial connections, hinder phagocytosis of the fungal propagules, thereby making colonization possible. The mucus present on the bronchial epithelium provides the culture(1,2).

The rarity of fungal colonization concomitant with active tuberculosis(3) justifies the present study.


We reviewed the records of 625 patients diagnosed with fungus ball in the city of Porto Alegre (RS) between 1974 and 2002. The inclusion criteria were positive microscopy for bacilli and radiographic images suggestive of fungus ball. Etiologic evidence of fungal colonization was obtained through mycological blood culture (double radial immunodiffusion) using specific antigens or through standard mycological diagnosis (microscopy and culture), or both. The cases were characterized in terms of clinical data (gender, age, principal symptoms, comorbidities, radiographic aspects, treatment and evolution), diagnostic procedures, therapeutic aspects and evolution.


A total of 14 patients (2%) fulfilled the inclusion criteria. All were male and between 29 and 66 years of age. In addition to tuberculosis, the majority presented other comorbidities: 6 (42%) were alcoholics, 2 (14%) were smokers, 2 (14%) presented chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 2 (14%) were diabetics, 1 (7%) had hepatitis and 1 (7%) suffered from oligophrenia.

All patients presented hemoptysis. Other manifestations included the
following: cough (86%), purulent expectoration (79%), dyspnea (43%), weight loss (43%), fever (29%), asthenia (21%) and chest pain (14%) (Table 1).

The most common radiographic finding was intracavitary content, mostly in the upper lobes, suggestive of fungus ball. This was found in 86% of the cases. All patients presented complex fungus ball. In patients colonized by A. fumigatus, there were contralateral lesions suggestive of active tuberculosis. In patients colonized by A. niger, the lesions were ipsilateral, and only in one case (Case 1) were lesions seen concomitant to the fungus ball. One patient (Case 14) was colonized by Scedosporium apiospermum (Teleomorph, Pseudallescheria boydii) and also presented concomitant tuberculous and fungal lesions (Table 2).

Etiologic evidence of fungal colonization was obtained through mycological blood culture in 11 patients (79%) who were unfit for surgery, surgical sample in 2 patients (Cases 9 and 10), biopsy material obtained by fiberoptic bronchoscopy in 1 patient (Case 1) and autopsy in 1 patient (Case 14). Microscopy (for acid-fast bacilli) was used to confirm the diagnosis of mycobacteriosis in 12 patients. Positive culture for Mycobacterium tuberculosis was obtained in only 2 patients (Cases 1 and 14).

The most prevalent fungus was A. fumigatus (57%; Cases 6 to 13), followed by A. niger (29%; Cases 1 to 4), A. flavus (7%; Case 5) and S. apiospermum (7%; Case 14). A total of 12 patients (Cases 2 to 13) presented fungus ball in healed cavities, and 3 patients undergoing surgery (Cases 9, 10 and 13) presented positivity for acid-fast bacilli in microscopy of adjacent parenchyma. In Case 1 (A. niger) and Case 14 (S. apiospermum), fungal colonization occurred in an active cavity (positivity for M. tuberculosis in microscopy and culture) (Table 3).

Only 3 patients received surgical treatment, undergoing lobectomy (Case 9) or pneumonectomy (Cases 10 and 13). One patient (Case 2) was submitted to radiotherapy due to hemoptysis severity. Ten patients received tuberculostatic treatment.

Clinical follow-up examinations were performed in 12 cases. Among these patients, 6 died: 3 of hemoptysis, 1 of acute oxalosis and 2 of undetermined causes.


Since the first studies on pulmonary intracavitary fungal colonization were carried out, A. fumigatus has been documented as the fungus that is most frequently involved, appearing in healed cavities(2). The antagonism between this agent and M. tuberculosis is demonstrated by the production of metabolites, such as fumagillin, fumitoxin and gliotoxin, that inhibit mycobacterial growth(4). The present study clinically corroborates this antagonism, demonstrating that, in cases in which the two diseases occurred concomitantly, there was no spatial coincidence. Although Adeyemo et al. (5) drew attention to the simultaneity of fungus ball and active tuberculosis, they found no evidence of lesion simultaneity or of fungal etiology of the colonization. Other studies describing concomitance between fungus ball and tuberculosis were also unclear regarding the simultaneity of both agents in the same lesion(1).

Excluding A. fumigatus, the potential for fungal colonization and mycobacteriosis to coexist is questioned(6-10). Cases 1 and 14, published separately(11, 12), presented lesions concomitant with pathological anatomy, with fungal and mycobacterial viability, demonstrating this potential in fungal agents other than A. fumigatus.

Surgery is the treatment of choice for fungus ball. In the present study, surgical treatment was possible in only 3 cases. In patients who present concomitant active tuberculosis, a negative sputum smear is considered a prerequisite to surgery, except in emergency cases(13). Another factor that limited the number of surgical procedures was the fact that all cases in the present study presented complex fungus balls(14).

In conclusion, we have demonstrated that it is possible for fungus ball and active tuberculosis to occur concomitantly at the same site since the colonizing fungal agents do not produce metabolites that can inactivate the mycobacterium.


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Study carried out in the Mycology Laboratory of the Santa Casa-Medical Complex and in the Hospital Sanatório Partenon, Secretaria de Saúde e Meio Ambiente(HSP-SSMA, Partenon Sanatorium Hospital, Department of Health and Environment), Porto Alegre, RS..
Correspondence to: Luiz Carlos Severo. Laboratório de Micologia, Hospital Santa Rita, Santa Casa-Complexo Hospitalar. Rua Annes Dias 285, CEP: 90020-090. Fax: 55 51 3214 8435. E-mail:



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