A variety of fungi in the order Mucorales cause mucormycosis, a rare fungal disease. These include bread molds, like Rhizopus and Mucor; the most commonly associated species is Rhizopus arrhizus (oryzae). These fungi can colonize many different tissues in immunocompromised patients, but often infect the skin, sinuses, or the lungs.
Although most people are regularly exposed to the causative agents of mucormycosis, infections in healthy individuals are rare. Exposure to spores from the environment typically occurs through inhalation, but the spores can also infect the skin through a wound or the gastrointestinal tract if ingested. Respiratory mucormycosis primarily affects immunocompromised individuals, such as patients with cancer or those who have had a transplant.
After the spores are inhaled, the fungi grow by extending hyphae into the host’s tissues. Infections can occur in both the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Rhinocerebral mucormycosis is an infection of the sinuses and brain; symptoms include headache, fever, facial swelling, congestion, and tissue necrosis causing black lesions in the oral cavity. Pulmonary mucormycosis is an infection of the lungs; symptoms include fever, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, infections may become disseminated and involve the central nervous system, leading to coma and death.
Diagnosing mucormycosis can be challenging. Currently, there are no serological or PCR-based tests available to identify these infections. Tissue biopsy specimens must be examined for the presence of the fungal pathogens. The causative agents, however, are often difficult to distinguish from other filamentous fungi. Infections are typically treated by the intravenous administration of amphotericin B, and superficial infections are removed by surgical debridement. Since the patients are often immunocompromised, viral and bacterial secondary infections commonly develop. Mortality rates vary depending on the site of the infection, the causative fungus, and other factors, but a recent study found an overall mortality rate of 54%.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology