What is mucormycosis?

Mucormycosis is a type of fungal infection. It’s relatively rare, but also very serious.

Formally known as zygomycosis, this infection tends to occur most often if you have weakened immunity from an illness or health condition.

It’s important to get treatment. If left untreated, mucormycosis can be fatal.

Mucormycosis presents itself as either a respiratory or a skin infection. Signs of a related sinus or respiratory infection may include:

  • cough
  • fever
  • headache
  • nasal congestion
  • sinus pain

With a skin infection, mucormycosis can develop within any part of your body. It may initially occur at the site of skin trauma, but it can quickly spread to another area. Be on the lookout for symptoms such as:

  • blackened skin tissue
  • blisters
  • fever
  • redness
  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • ulcers

Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to mucormyete molds. These organisms occur in:

  • leaves
  • piles of compost
  • soil
  • rotting wood

You can contract mucormycosis by breathing in affected mold spores in the air. This is referred to as a sinus (pulmonary) exposure. In turn, you may develop the infection in your:

  • central nervous system (rarer)
  • eyes
  • face
  • lungs
  • sinuses

The fungus can also infect your skin via a cut or burn (cutaneous exposure). In such cases, the wound or burn ends up becoming the area of infection.

While these types of molds can naturally occur in the environment, not everyone exposed will get the fungal infection. You may be at an increased risk of contracting this type of infection if you have a weakened immune system. Conditions that may increase your risk include:

  • burns
  • cuts and scrapes
  • cancer
  • recent organ transplant
  • HIV or AIDS
  • diabetes (especially if it’s not being treated properly)
  • surgery

People who have mucormycosis often don’t know they have it. You may get diagnosed with the condition upon going to the doctor for a lung, sinus, or skin infection. You should see your doctor for any type of suspected infection.

Mucormycosis is diagnosed by looking at a tissue sample in the lab. Your doctor may collect a sample of phlegm or nasal discharge if you have a suspected sinus infection. In the case of a skin infection, your doctor may also clean the wounded area in question.

Mucormycosis is particularly dangerous because it spreads quickly throughout the body. Left untreated, the infection can spread to the lungs or the brain. This can cause:

  • a brain infection
  • paralysis
  • pneumonia
  • seizures
  • death

The first steps in treating mucormycosis are receiving intravenous (IV) antifungal medications and having surgical debridement. Surgical debridement involves cutting away all infected tissue. Removing infected tissue has been shown to prevent the infection from spreading further.

If you respond well to IV therapy and tissue removal, your doctor will likely remove your IV and give you oral medications to take.

Common antifungal medications that your doctor may prescribe for mucormycosis include:

  • amphotericin B (given through an IV)
  • posaconazole (given through an IV or orally)
  • isavuconazole (given through an IV or orally)

Chances for mucormycosis recovery depend greatly on early diagnosis and treatment. The infection has the potential to spread throughout the body. Death is a possibility with this type of severe infection.

However, mucormycosis is relatively rare. To be on the safe side, you should always have your doctor evaluate any suspected form of infection to rule out such serious underlying causes.

Mucormycosis isn’t contagious, so you can’t get it from an infected person. Self-care measures are the best way to prevent this type of infection. If you have a weakened immune system, it’s important to keep yourself safe outdoors. Wearing a mask while doing yardwork and bandaging all wounds until they heal will help prevent fungal infections.

You may also consider taking extra precautions during the summer and autumn months, when there’s an increased amount of the fungi in the environment.