For a fungus, this thing attracts a lot of attention from the college. Question 9  from the second paper of 2014 asked for a substantial amount of detail regarding the diagnosis of aspergillosis.

As with many of these, the Manual offers little help. Instead, one should turn to LITFL's CCC entry on this subject, which is precise and brief. However if one is not into brevity and precision, one can enjoy several hours submerged in the reference swamp listed below. Selected reading could be limited to the following exceptional articles:

Risk factors for aspergillus infection

One of the articles referenced by LITFL contains within it Table 2 (p.207) which lists the risk categories for invasive aspergillosis among ICU patients. In a contorted form, those data are displayed below:

Low risk

Intermediate risk

High risk

  • Heart, kidney, liver transplant
  • Burns
  • Stay in ICU > 21 days
  • Malnutrition
  • Cardiac surgery
  • Short term steroids
  • Bone marrow transplant (auto)
  • COPD
  • Cirrhosis
  • Solid malignancy
  • HIV
  • Lung transplant
  • Chronic steroids
  • Chronic immunesuppression
  • Bone marrow transplant (allo)
  • Neutropenia
  • Haem malignancy

It should be noted (from the same article) that merely being intubated places one at an increased risk of forming Aspergillus colonies in one's respiratory tract. This has the effect of causing positive test results, but no actual invasive disease.

Diagnosis of aspergillosis

An old 1977 article (from before PCRs and whatnot) and a new 2002 article describe the clinical picture. Their suggestions can be compiled into a table:

Clinical Features and Associated Findings in Aspergillosis


  • An asthma-like clinical picture
  • Haemoptysis
  • Chronic cough

Extrapulmonary: immunocompromised host

  • endopthalmitis
  • endocarditis
  • Eosinophilia
  • Elevated serum IgE
  • Spherical lesions on CXR
  • Incidental lesions on CT

Difficulty of identifying aspergillosis in the ICU

This answers Question 9 from the second paper of 2014.

Why the diagnosis is not straightforward:

  • ICU patients will have nonspecific signs, buried under other signs, and often no history.
  • Radiological diagnosis may be obscured by othr pathology, or may be logistically difficult
  • Biopsy is frequently impossible
  • Immunocompetent individuals are not suspected, yet may still develop the disease
  • Clinically insignificant colonisation is common, but will yield the same positive diagnostic results as active invasive disease.
  • Diagnostic test accuracy may be confounded by many factors, eg. concurrent β-lactam therapy.

Laboratory tests

Aspergillus galactomannan: blood

Aspergillus galactomannan: bronchoalveolar lavage

Aspergillus PCR on bronchoalveolar lavage specimens

Aspergillus hyphae identified

  • The gold standard
  • Again, as all of these tests, it cannot discriminate among those who have invasive aspergillosis and those who are merely colonised.

Radiological identification

LITFL link to an excellent Radiopedia page which has some lovely fungus balls. A definitive journal reference would have to be this 2001 article.

In brief, the radiological features are:

  • Pulmonary nodule on CXR
  • A "halo" of ground-glass opacity surrounds the nodules on CT
  • Wedge-like haemorrhagic pulmonary infarcts
  • Air crescents following resolution (necrotic lung separating from the rest of the parenchyma)

Tissue biopsy

Open lung biopsy is not to be taken lightly. Furthermore, it is not always helpful. In one 2001 study the authors claim that they could histopathologically confirm invasive fungal infections only in 53.1% by open lung biopsy. Generally speaking these days people rely on laboratory data and radiology. The open biopsy remains at the hopeless end of the diagnostic algorithm flowcharts. Its only benefit is to spare the patient from a course of amphotericin therapy.

Management of Aspergillosis

The Sanford Guide recommends the following:

  • Voriconazole (loading dose of 6mg/kg, followed by 4mg/kg)

Alternatives include

  • Amphotericin B
  • Posaconazole
  • Caspofungin
  • Itraconazole


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