Mucormycosis (Zygomycosis)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP
    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.

Bacterial Infections 101 Pictures Slideshow

What causes mucormycosis?

Zygomycetes represent the general class of fungi that cause mucormycosis. Rhizopus arrhizus species from the Mucoraceae family are the most commonly identified cause of mucormycosis in humans. Other fungal causes may include Mucor species, Cunninghamella bertholletiae, Apophysomyces elegans, Absidia species, Saksenaea species, Rhizomucor pusillus, Entomophthora species, Conidiobolus species, and Basidiobolus species. Mucoraceae are found worldwide and in the ecosystem are responsible for initiating and decaying most organic material in the environment. Most fungi are identified by their unique morphological appearance (see Figure 1) viewed microscopically and determined by a professional practiced in fungal identification (microbiologist or pathologist).

Picture of sporangia of a Mucor spp. fungus
Fig. 1: Picture of sporangia of a Mucor spp. fungus; SOURCE: CDC/Dr. Lucille K. Georg

In general, mucormycosis is an infection not often seen by many doctors because the fungal causes are not readily infectious. Usually an infection develops because of some unusual circumstance that places the fungi in contact with compromised or injured animal or human tissue. However, once established, the fungi can rapidly multiply in blood vessel walls where it effectively reduces and cuts off blood to tissues, thereby creating its own decaying organic food source resulting in widespread tissue destruction. If this fulminant spread of fungi is not stopped, death is the outcome.

What are risk factors for mucormycosis?

A risk factor is any debilitating disease process, especially diseases that can yield compromised blood flow to tissue. The classic example is the patient with uncontrolled diabetes and foot ulcers where dirt or debris can easily reach compromised tissue. Patients with burns, malignancies, immunocompromised patients, patients with a splenectomy, and people with wounds (usually severe) that have been contaminated with soil or environmental water are at higher risk to get mucormycosis. Consequently, people injured in environmental disasters are, as a group, at high risk for this infection.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/23/2015

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