Invasive fungal infections in critically ill children: epidemiology, risk factors and antifungal drugs

Kam Lun Ellis Hon, Vivian PY Chan, Alexander KC Leung, Karen Ka Yan Leung, Wun Fung Hui


Background: Invasive fungal infections (IFIs) are important infectious complications amongst critically ill children. The most common fungal infections are due to Candida species. Aspergillus, Zygomycetes and Fusarium are also emerging because of the empirical use of antifungal drugs. This updated review discusses the epidemiology of IFIs as well as antifungal drugs, dosing and potential adverse effects in critically ill children.

Methods: A PubMed search was conducted with Clinical Queries using the key terms “antifungal”, “children”, “critical care” AND “paediatric intensive care unit” OR “PICU”. The search strategy included clinical trials, randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, observational studies and reviews and was limited to the English literature in paediatrics.

Results: Candida and Aspergillus spp. are the most prevalent fungi in paediatric IFIs, causing invasive candidiasis infections (ICIs) and invasive aspergillosis infections (IAIs), respectively. These IFIs are associated with high morbidity, mortality and healthcare costs. Candida albicans is the principal Candida spp. associated with paediatric ICIs. The risks and epidemiology for IFIs vary if considering previously healthy children treated in the paediatric intensive care unit or children with leukaemia, malignancy or a severe haematological disease. The mortality rate for IAIs in children is 2.5–3.5-fold higher than for ICIs. Four major classes of antifungals for critically ill children are azoles, polyenes, antifungal antimetabolites and echinocandins.

Conclusions: Antifungal agents are highly efficacious. For successful treatment outcomes, it is crucial to determine the optimal dosage, monitor pharmacokinetics parameters and adverse effects, and individualized therapeutic monitoring. Despite potent antifungal medications, ICIs and IAIs continue to be serious infections with high mortality rates. Pre-emptive therapy has been used for IAIs. Most guidelines recommend voriconazole as initial therapy of invasive aspergillosis in most patients, with consideration of combination therapy with voriconazole plus an echinocandin in selected patients with severe disease. The challenge is to identify critically ill patients at high risks of ICIs for targeted prophylaxis. Intravenous/per os fluconazole is first-line pre-emptive treatment for Candida spp. whereas intravenous micafungin or intravenous liposomal amphotericin B is alternative pre-emptive treatment.

This article is part of the Challenges and strategies in the management of invasive fungal infections Special Issue:

Article Details

Article Type





Publication Dates

Accepted: ; Published: .


Hon KLE, Chan VPY, Leung AKC, Leung KKY, Hui WF. Invasive fungal infections in critically ill children: epidemiology, risk factors and antifungal drugs. Drugs Context. 2024;13:2023-9-2.

Register for alerts

I would like to be contacted by Drugs in Context when new articles are posted.