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Candidiasis Mucocutaneous

Description of Medical Condition

A mucocutaneous disorder caused by infection with various species of Candida. Candida is normally present, in very small amounts, in the oral cavity, gastrointestinal tract, and female genital tract.

  • Candida vulvovaginitis — infection on the vaginal mucosa, often associated with cutaneous vulvar involvement
  • Orophatyngeal candidiasis — infection of the oral cavity (“thrush”) and/or pharynx.
  • Candida esophagitis — usually associated with an immunosuppressed host
  • Gastrointestinal candidiasis — gastritis, sometimes with ulcers, usually associated with thrush. The small and large bowel can also be affected.
  • Angular cheilitis — fissures formed by Candida infection at the corners of the mouth.

Candidiasis Mucocutaneous

System(s) affected: Skin/Exocrine, Gastrointestinal

Genetics: Chronic mucocutaneous candidiasis is a heterogeneous clinical syndrome that usually presents in childhood and can have an autosomal recessive, dominant or sporadic mode of inheritance. Sera from HIV-infected patients with thrush have been screened for C. albicans genomic expression. Identified genes include some encoding immunogenic antigens. Notably, when disrupted, genes can confer defects in morphogenesis, adherence, and mortality. Additionally, family analysis has identified an isolated form of mucocutaneous candidiasis that affects nails only, and its chromosomal region. This and multiple other studies suggest that there are distinct phenotypes that respond in varying degrees to Candida replication in their host.

Incidence/Prevalence in USA: More common, particularly vaginal. Very common in persons with immunodeficiency.

Predominant age:

  • Infants and older geriatrics predominate for thrush and cutaneous infections
  • Women during their child bearing years predominate for vaginitis

Predominant sex: Female > Male (due to the entity of Candida vaginitis)

Medical Symptoms and Signs of Disease

In pediatrics

  • Oral lesions — white, raised, painless, distinct patches within oral cavity
  • Perineal — etythematous maculopapular rash with white “satellite” pustules
  • Angular cheilitis — painful fissures in mouth corners

In adults (whether or not immunocompromised)

  • Vulvovaginal lesions — thin to thick whitish, “cottage cheese”-like discharge; etythematous patches in vagina or on perineum. Range from asymptomatic to intense pruritus with “burning” irritation

In immunocompromised hosts

  • Oral lesions — white, raised, painless, distinct patches; erythematous slightly raised patches; thick dark brownish coating; deep fissures
  • Esophagitis — dysphagia, odynophagia, retrosternal pain. Usually associated with thrush.
  • Gastrointestinal — ulcerations, pain
  • Balanitis — erythema, linear erosions and scaling
  • Angular cheilitis (see Pediatrics)

What Causes Disease?

Species of Candida albicans and, less frequently, Candida tropicalis

Risk Factors

  • Immunosuppression
  • Antibacterial therapy
  • Douching and other intravaginal chemicals
  • Other vaginitides
  • Dentures
  • Chronic steroids (oral or inhaled)
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Exogenous estrogen
  • See Associated Conditions

Diagnosis of Disease

Differential Diagnosis

  • Baby formula can mimic thrush
  • Hairy leukoplakia can mimic thrush but does not rub off to an erythematous base and is usually on the lateral sides of the tongue.
  • Other yeasts may present like Candida
  • Some of the symptoms of Trichomonas vaginalis (TV) can mimic those of Candida vulvovaginitis (CV). Specific symptom overlaps include: Both may have 1) initial symptoms post-menstrually, 2) marked vulvar irritation, 3) labial erythema, 4) external dysuria, and 5) vaginal tenderness.
  • Iron deficiency and staph infections can mimic angular cheilitis


  • Potassium hydroxide 10% microscopic slide preparation (“KOH prep”). Breaks down epithelial cell walls allowing yeast forms to be more easily identified. Best if heated. Lack of slide identification does not rule out and, conversely, one may identify a scant number of fungal forms without symptoms or pathogenesis.
  • Gram stain reveals gram positive yeast forms
  • Culture — blood orSabouraud’s agar. A positive may be result of normal flora.

Drugs that may alter lab results:

  • Douches and spermicides
  • Inadequately dosed antifungal medication

Disorders that may alter lab results: Other vaginitides (may obscure vaginal slide findings)

Pathological Findings

Slide prep — Mycelia (hyphae) or pseudomycelia (pseudohyphae) yeast forms. A polymorphonuclear leukocyte response is not usually seen unless another pathogen or inflammatory agent is present


Esophageal candidiasis will sometimes reveal a “cobblestone” appearance with a barium swallow and, less commonly, fistulas or esophageal dilatation (from denervation)

Diagnostic Procedures

  • For KOH prep, will need sample of discharge or “coating” of infected area or ulcer
  • Esophagitis may need endoscopic biopsy
  • HIV seropositivity plus thrush with dysphagia relieved by antifungal treatment is consistent with diagnosis of Candida esophagitis

Treatment (Medical Therapy)

Appropriate Health Care


General Measures

Screen both well infants and patients with severe immunodeficiency using appropriate history and physical at all routine visits




A few authorities say rectal colonization may be decreased with active culture yogurt or other live lactobacillus, but no clear correlation

Patient Education

  • Advise patients at risk for recurrence about antibacterial therapy overgrowth
  • Inform appropriate patients of over-the-counter vaginitis medications
  • Cotton underwear may allow for better perineal ventilation and, thus, a less suitable environment for yeast

Medications (Drugs, Medicines)

Drug(s) of Choice

  • Vaginal (one day therapies):
    • Fluconazole (Diflucan) 150mg tablet once
    • Clotrimazole (Canesten) 500mg (intravaginal) tablet
    • Tioconazole (Monistat-1, Vagistat-1) 6.5% ointment 5 grams
    • Butoconazole (Femstat, Gynazole-1) 2% cream 5 grams
  • Vaginal (conventional multi-day therapies):
    • Miconazole (Monistat) 2% cream: one applicator or 100 mg suppositories, intravaginally q hs x 7 days
    • Clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin, Mycelex): intravaginal suppositories 100 mg q hs x 6-7 days or 200 mg q hs x 3 days. 1 % cream one applicator intravaginally q hs x 6-7 days.
    • Nystatin (Mycostatin, Nilstat) 100,000 U/gram cream (one applicator) or 100,000 U tablets (one) intravaginally bid x 7 days
  • Oropharyngeal:
    • Clotrimazole (Mycelex) 10 mg troche, slowly dissolve in mouth 5 times per day, preferably over 20 minutes for 7-14 days (2 days after disappearance of thrush) (first choice in most literature)
    • Nystatin pastilles -1 or 2, qid for 7-14 days (2 days after disappearance of thrush)
    • Nystatin oral suspension (100,000 units/mL): Children apply 5-10 mL qid x10 days directly to oral lesions. Adults swish and swallow 5-10 mL over 20 minutes qid x14 days. Prophylaxis for relapses consists of above dosages 2-5 times per day
    • Fluconazole 100mg qd for 7-14 days
  • Esophagitis:
    • Fluconazole (Diflucan) 200 mg, then 100 mg po qd x10-21 days
    • Itraconazole solution 100-200 mg/day for 14-21 days
    • Ketoconazole (Nizoral) 200-400 mg tablets — one po qd X14-21 days
  • Gastrointestinal (therapy not well defined)
    • Fluconazole 200 mg tablets — one po qd X14-21 days OAmphotericin B (Fungizone) IV

Note: Resistant candidiasis is common in severely im-munocompromised hosts. Some patients with otherwise resistant oropharyngeal and/or esophageal infection benefit from amphotericin B, 50 mg 3 times a week or from itraconazole (Sporanox) 200 mg bid for the same number of days described under fluconazole dosing for the various sites of infection mentioned above.


  • Severe allergic response or a severe adverse reaction
  • Ketoconazole, itraconazole or nystatin (if swallowed)
  • severe hepatotoxicity
  • Amphotericin B — renal failure


  • Vaginal — miconazole is usually drug of choice in pregnancy
  • Ketoconazole — rarely, men may have difficulty achieving erections secondary to this drug. May cause light sensitivity. Teratogen in pregnancy and probably excreted in milk. Not well studied in children. Anaphylaxis is reported. Hepatic toxicity has been noted, predominantly with long-term therapy.
  • Fluconazole — adjust dose with renal compromise. Hepatotoxicity is rare. Very expensive relative to most other oral agents. Resistance has often been noted.
  • Itraconazole — doubling the Itraconazole dose results in approximately a three-fold increase in the itraconazole plasma concentrations
  • Amphotericin B — renal toxicity and hypokalemia common. Careful monitoring is mandatory. Ketotic diabetics should have well controlled blood sugars prior to administration. Safety during pregnancy is not established.

Significant possible interactions:

  • Rarely seen with creams, lotions or suppositories
  • Ketoconazole
    • Antacids, H2 blockers (achlorhydria) — reduce ketoconazole concentration
    • Antiretrovirals — many have problematic interactionswith ketoconazole; check drug reference
    • Coumadin — potentiates anticoagulation
    • Hypoglycemics — enhanced hypoglycemia
    • INH/rifampin — reduce ketoconazole concentration
    • Cyclosporine — increased cyclosporine concentration
    • Phenytoin — metabolism altered; check levels
    • Alcohol — disulfiram reaction possible
    • Others — check drug interaction reference
  • Amphotericin B
    • Onephrotoxic drugs — enhanced toxicity
    • Corticosteroids — potentiates hypokalemia
    • Ketoconazole — drug antagonism; do not give together
  • Fluconazole
    • Rifampin — decreased fluconazole concentrations
    • Tolbutamide — decreased tolbutamide concentrations
    • Warfarin, phenytoin, cyclosporine — metabolism altered; check levels
  • Itraconazole — this potent cytochrome P450 3A4 isoenzyme system (CYP3A4) inhibitor may increase plasma concentrations of the many drugs metabolized by that pathway and cause serious cardiovascular events. Carefully assess all co-administered medications.

Alternative Drugs

  • Vaginal
    • Terconazole (Terazol) particularly for recurrent cases that may involve imidazole resistance. 0.4% cream — one applicator intravaginally q hs x 7 days; 0.8% cream/80 mg suppositories — one applicator or one suppository intravaginally q hs x 3 days
    • Any of the antifungal creams or suppositories can be tried every month for a few days near menses to help curb recurrent infections
  • Oropharyngeal
    • Ketoconazole 200-400 mg po qd x 14-21 days
    • Fluconazole 50-200 mg tablets — one po qd x 14-21 days, although a majority of fungal strains found in the oropharynx are likely to be resistant
  • Esophagitis
    • Amphotericin B (variable dosing)

Patient Monitoring

Immunocom promised persons may need to monitor themselves regularly. Use symptoms to monitor as well as “routine” KOH preps and or visual investigations during vaginal or oral exams.

Prevention / Avoidance

  • Antibiotics can potentiate candidiasis
  • Candida overgrowth is more likely with pH changes from douching, chemicals (such as spermicides) or other vaginitides
  • Moist environments are conducive to overgrowth of Candida. Cotton underwear may help deter some Candida infections.

Possible Complications

  • Rarely develops major complications in immunocompe-tent persons
  • With immunocompromised, generally depends on severity of immune status (CD4 count is the most common marker). Moderate immunodepression (CD4 200-500) may be associated with chronic candidiasis. With severe immunodepression (CD4< 100) thrush can lead to esophagitis and, later, a full systemic infection can involve every organ system, particularly the kidney (candiduria).

Expected Course / Prognosis

  • For immunocompetent individuals, a benign course and excellent prognosis is the norm
  • In immunosuppressed persons, Candida may become an “AIDS defining illness” by CDC criteria and chronicity can cause much morbidity and, less commonly, mortality


Associated Conditions

  • Human immunodeficiency virus
  • Other immunosuppressive disorders/leukopenias
  • Cancer
  • Endocrine disorders

Age-Related Factors

Pediatric: Newborn thrush may be acquired in the birth canal

Geriatric: Thrush is common

Others: Vaginitis is common in women of childbearing age. Uncommon to see prepubertal or post-menopausal yeast vaginitis due to hormonal induced changes in the vaginal wall.


  • No known fetal complications of maternal Candida
  • See specific “medication precautions” above
  • Miconazole is usually drug of choice in pregnancy


  • Monilia
  • Thrush
  • Yeast

International Classification of Diseases

112.0 Candidiasis of mouth

112.1 Candidiasis of vulva and vagina 112.9 Candidiasis of unspecified site

See Also


HIV infection & AIDS

Vulvovaginitis, candidal

Other Notes

  • Most Candida infections are associated with endogenous flora
  • Transmission from person to person is rare
  • Occasionally Candida vaginitis may be sexually transmitted
  • Rarely, oral Candida leukoplakia can be precancer-ous
  • Skin testing, often used to diagnose or exclude anergy. is positive in 70-85% of individuals randomly checked in studies
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