What is Mucormycosis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2018
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Mucormycosis is a rare but potentially life-threatening variety of fungal infection. One of many different fungi can be involved, and infection is most likely in people who have weakened immune systems. Mucormycosis can cause inflammation and irritation of sinus, lung, brain, or organ tissue, possibly leading to severe health complications. Doctors can try to treat an infection with intravenous anti-fungal medications, though most cases require surgery to remove damaged tissue and prevent the fungus from spreading. A patient's outlook is best when the condition is discovered and treated right away.

Fungi from the order Mucorales are very common, widespread organisms. They are prevalent in many different types of soil and in decaying organic matter. A fungus can enter a person's body when spores become airborne with wind and inhaled by the nose. People with healthy immune systems rarely suffer serious infections; their natural defenses are enough to prevent problems. Infections are much more prevalent in individuals with compromised immune systems due to congenital or acquired disorders, such as HIV, cancer, or diabetes.

Once fungal spores enter the body of a susceptible person, they can become embedded in the sinuses, lungs, or gastrointestinal tract. Fungi in the sinuses can lead to rhinocerebral mucormycosis, an infection that eventually spreads to the brain. Within a few days of rhinocerebral infection, a person is likely to have nasal congestion, swelling under the eyes, and a fever. As fungi penetrate brain tissue, vision, concentration, and cognition can quickly deteriorate.


Pulmonary mucormycosis affects the lungs, causing a persistent, thick, wet cough. Individuals often have difficulty breathing and severe fevers. When fungi are found elsewhere in the body, a person may have diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, or muscle pain. Skin infections are possible when fungus comes in contact with an open sore, leading to severe localized inflammation and skin tissue death.

In the emergency room, a physician may decide to check for mucormycosis if the patient has an existing immunocompromising disorder. Lab tests to analyze blood, mucus, and body tissue can help doctors pinpoint the specific type of fungus present. A patient may also need to undergo computerized tomography scans so specialists can identify the exact location and severity of infected tissue. After an accurate diagnosis is made, immediate action must be taken to provide the best possible chances of survival.

A patient is usually sent directly to an operating room and given intravenous anti-fungal medications. Depending on the location of the fungus, a surgeon may be able to excise it through a minimally invasive endoscopic procedure. Some infections require more invasive surgeries, where the head or chest is cut open and damaged tissue manually removed. Extensive therapy and medical care is necessary following surgery to make sure the fungus is entirely gone and the patient is able to maintain cognitive and motor abilities.



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