Background: Due to the lack of reliable diagnostic tools, clinical data on the significance of most invasive fungal infections are difficult to assess and information on frequency, disease pattern and prognostic impact still largely relies on autopsy data.
Methods and results: To determine temporal trends in invasive fungal infections, we analyzed data from 8124 autopsies performed between 1978 and 1992 on patients who died at the University Hospital of Frankfurt/Main. During that period, a total of 278 invasive fungal infections were found. The prevalence rose from 2.2% (1978-82) and 3.2% (1983-87) to 5.1% in the most recent years (P < 0.001). Besides the emergence of mixed and unclassified infections, this was mainly due to a significant increase in Aspergillus infections (P < 0.001), whereas the prevalence of Candida infections was stable and even showed a declining trend within the last years. The highest infection rates were found in aplastic syndromes (68%), followed by AML (25%) and AIDS (19%). In the majority of cases (76%), invasive fungal infection was related to the immediate cause of death. However, the proportion of patients with endstage underlying conditions increased significantly over time from 53% to 80% (P < 0.001). Accordingly, the number of patients who were not considered terminally ill but had died from fungal infection dropped from 35% to 17% within the last years (P < 0.01).
Conclusions: These observations document significant changes in frequency, aetiology and underlying disease processes in invasive fungal infections at autopsy and underscore the continuing need for more effective prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.