SAN ANTONIO – New guidelines have been released to help diagnose, treat and cure aspergillosis, a dangerous fungal infection that targets weakened immune systems.
Dr. Tom Patterson,head of infectious diseases at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, was among a group of national experts who developed the guidelines.
Patterson said the actual fungus known as aspergillus is in the air.
“I’m breathing it in. You’re breathing it in right now,” Patterson said, but it doesn’t affect healthy immune systems.
He said the defensive mechanism in the lungs regularly controls exposure and eradicates aspergillus from the body.
Patterson said it attacks those with weakened immune systems due to cancer, HIV/AIDS or organ transplants.
When Daniel Edelen was only seven, he was diagnosed with childhood leukemia.
“They said that the cancer had covered both his lungs,” said his father Chris Edelen.
He said the doctors at the Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis told the family, “They needed to start steroids and chemotherapy immediately or he possibly wouldn’t make it through the night.”
After that, as if the initial diagnosis wasn’t bad enough, when he was almost eight, invasive aspergillosis also was discovered in his lungs.
“Right before Christmas unfortunately,” Edelen said.
Chris Edelen, Daniel’s father, said doctors then informed them, “It had walled itself off and that it would not go away. He needed to have surgery.”
He said they had to wait until his son was strong enough before they removed part of his lower right lung.
Looking back, Daniel Edelen said, “It was probably one of the more threatening things during my treatment, the aspergillus. More than anything.”
Patterson said once it gets in the blood vessels, the fungus can spread to other parts of the body, so the new guidelines emphasize early detection.
He also helped develop new medications to treat the disease, isavuconazole and voriconazole, at his laboratory on campus.
“They’re like antibiotics, but we call them anti-fungals,” Patterson said.
Now a sophomore at UT Austin, at 19, Edelen stands taller than Patterson.
He’s a survivor having beaten leukemia and aspergillosis.
His mother, Joan Edelen said, “He was taking the IV that Dr. Patterson described and then he had the surgery on his lungs and he recovered really well after that.”
Daniel was recognized in 2013 as the "Man of the Year” by the South Central Texas chapter of Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. His mother is also a board member.