Mucormycosis is a fungal infection of the sinuses, brain, or lungs that occurs in some people with a weakened immune system.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Mucormycosis is caused by a common fungus frequently found in the soil and in dying plants. Most people come in contact with the fungus at some time. However, people with a weakened immune system are more likely to get this infection.
Conditions most commonly associated with mucormycosis include:
- Diabetes (usually poorly controlled)
- Leukemia and lymphoma
- Long-term steroid use
- Metabolic acidosis
- Poor nutrition (malnutrition)
- Use of some medicines, such as deferoxamine
Mucormycosis may involve:
- Sinus and brain infection (rhinocerebral infection), which may start as a sinus infection, then causes swelling of the cranial nerves. It may cause blood clots that block vessels to the brain.
- Lung infection (pulmonary mucormycosis): pneumonia that gets worse quickly and may spread to the chest cavity, heart, and brain.
- Other parts of the body: Mucormycosis of the gastrointestinal tract, skin, and kidneys
Symptoms of rhinocerebral mucormycosis include:
Eye swelling and protrusion (proptosis)
Dark nasal eschar (scabbing)
Mental status changes
Redness of skin overlying sinuses
Sinus pain or congestion
Symptoms of lung (pulmonary) mucormycosis include:
Coughing blood (occasionally)
Shortness of breath
Symptoms of gastrointestinal mucormycosis include:
Blood in the stools
Symptoms of kidney (renal) mucormycosis include:
- Flank (side) pain
Symptoms of skin (cutaneous) mucormycosis include a single, painful, hardened area of skin that may have a blackened center.
Signs and tests
The doctor or nurse will examine you. An ear-nose-throat (ENT) doctor should be seen if you are having sinus problems.
Testing depends on your symptoms but may include:
A biopsy must be done to make a definitive diagnosis of mucormycosis.
Surgery should be done immediately to remove all dead and infected tissue. Surgery can lead to disfiguration because it may involve removal of the palate, parts of the nose, or parts of the eye. Without such aggressive surgery, however, chances of survival are greatly decreased.
You will also receive antifungal medicines through a vein, usually amphotericin B.
Mucormycosis has an extremely high death rate even when aggressive surgery is done. Death rates range from 25 – 85% depending on the body area involved and your overall health.
- Blindness (if the optic nerve is involved)
- Clotting or blockage of brain or lung blood vessels (thrombosis)
- Nerve damage
Calling your health care provider
People with weakened immune systems and immune disorders (including diabetes) should seek medical attention if they develop fever, headache, sinus pain, eye swelling, or any of the other symptoms listed above.
Because the fungi that cause mucormycosis are widespread, the most appropriate preventive measures involve improved control of the underlying illnesses associated with mucormycosis.