The commonest fungus that affects humans belongs to the candida species. That is why the infection is called candida or thrush.
We are usually resistant to a thrush infection because of our natural immunity. Babies, the elderly and people whose immunity is compromised by HIV infection, cancer or treatment with steroids are unable to withstand the infection.
The spores thrive in the mouth, vagina, penis, and in the sweaty folds of the body - in the armpits, under the folds of the breast, in the groin and diaper areas of babies. They can grow rapidly, causing the area to become inflamed, red, scaly and itchy.
In the mouth and vagina, thrush is visible as curdy white patches that cannot be scraped off. It makes the foreskin of the penis inflamed and cracked. There may be a foul odour. Scratching causes the organism to be deposited under the nails and transported to other areas.
Prolonged sucking on pacifiers and bottle nipples can cause micro trauma to the mucous membrane of the mouth in babies, enabling candida to get a foothold. If the infant is on antibiotics, the protective microbes in the mouth can get suppressed, causing an overgrowth of candida. The infection can occur in breast-fed infants also and may be passed back and forth from nipple to mouth.
Diapers can promote the overgrowth of candida. The diaper area may be covered with red splotches or be scaly. It can occur because the baby is left in the soiled diaper too long or the baby or mother is on antibiotics.
Local applications of anti-fungal solutions or creams are usually all that is required for the infection to clear up.
Natural probiotics (like a tablespoon of curd) on an empty stomach in the morning will help to repopulate the body with good bacteria and prevent overgrowth of fungus.
The writer is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore and author of Staying Healthy in Modern India. If you have any questions on health issues please write to firstname.lastname@example.org