Candidiasis is a disease caused by a yeast-like fungus known as Candida albicans. It usually affects the mouth, urinary tract system, vagina, skin, and stomach.
Candidiasis infection usually affects women as vaginal yeast infection during their lifetime and the highest percentage of all people with HIV/Aids develop Candida infections.
Oral infections called oral thrush are most common in infants, elderly people, and those with a weakened immune system.
Oral candidiasis manifests itself as creamy white patches in the mouth or on the throat and sometimes with painful cracks at the corners of the mouth.
There are also skin rashes, patches, and blisters found most commonly in the groin, between fingers and toes, and under the breasts. Vaginal itching and irritation with white discharge resembling cottage cheese is a typical symptom for vaginal yeast infection.
There is usually a certain quantity of candida that lives on the mouth, stomach, and vagina but does not cause infections. However, candidiasis occurs when there is an overgrowth of candida germs in our body system.
The cause of candida overgrowth may be due to taking certain drugs especially antibiotics, corticosteroids, and some birth control pills. Other causes may include pregnancy, being overweight, having a bacterial infection, or several different health conditions, for example a weakened immune system, diabetes, and psoriasis.
Due to high prevalence of the disease in women, many women know when they have a vaginal yeast infection, and those who have never suffered from the disease need to consult doctors in case the above signs and symptoms present.
Many antifungal medications can treat candidiasis. For vaginal yeast infections, medications that are available to treat the condition include creams and suppositories such as miconazole (Monistat), ticonazole (Vagistat), and clotrimazole (Gyne-Lotrimin).
Creams combined with low strength corticosteroids reduce inflammation and itching. Most treatments last from two or three days to two weeks.
For severe candidiasis that could be life threatening to people with comprised immune system seen in poorly controlled HIV and malignant cancer patients an intravenous (IV) medication such as amphotericin B is prescribed.
Some scientific reports suggest that reducing sugar in the diet may help prevent yeast infections. Other foods that some health experts believe may contribute to candidiasis include high amounts of milk, dairy products, and foods with high concentrations of yeast such as cheese, peanuts, and alcohol.
Alternatively, one can use natural antifungal as well as immune strengthening therapies to improve the body's ability to keep candida in check.
Vitamin C (500 - 1,000 mg per day), vitamin E (200 - 400 IU per day), and selenium (200 mcg per day) help reduce inflammation and keep the immune system strong.
Essential fatty acids help reduce inflammation. For example, mix of omega-6 and omega-3 from fish oil presents a good natural therapy.
Vitamin B-complex is also required. Other vitamin B contents include B1 (50 - 100 mg), B2 (50 mg), B3 (25 mg), B5 (100 mg), B6 (50 - 100 mg), B12 (100 - 1,000 mcg), folate (400 mcg per day).
Calcium is very important and at least 1,000 - 1,500 mg per day. Many people who have recurrent yeast infections normally do not have enough calcium in their diet. There is also need for magnesium (750 - 1,000 mg per day) to balance calcium intake.
Caprylic acid (1 g with meals) is another type of fatty acid that may have antifungal properties.
Adding more garlic (fungicidal), nuts (essential fatty acids), whole grains (B vitamins) in the diet may help avoid yeast infections.
People should avoid overuse of antibiotics that kill off the friendly bacteria that normally keep candida in check. For use of antibiotics, it is important to consult health experts for the proper use of antibiotics, especially where they are needed most.
Some herbs have good anti-fungal properties; for example, the juice of Echinacea herb that grows on shores of oceans has been seen to help prevent recurrence of vaginal yeast infections.
There is also tea tree oil known as meleleuca alternifolia that has antifungal properties. It is effective in treating oral thrush when used as a mouthwash. However, this tea tree oil is toxic if swallowed and should only be used as a mouthwash under health guidelines.
The writer is a doctor at the Rwanda Military Hospital - Kanombe.