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What is Zygomycosis?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Zygomycosis is a potentially life-threatening infection that commonly affects individuals with compromised immunity. Resulting from exposure to the zygomycota phylum fungi, zygomycosis is a relatively common condition that affects the respiratory system and neurological function. Possessing a high mortality rate, prompt treatment is essential to survival and often involves the administration of intensive antifungal drug therapy.

Individuals who develop zygomycosis, also known as mucormycosis, exhibit a variety of symptoms that may progressively affect several body systems depending on the location of the initial infection. When the fungal infection settles in the lungs, known as pulmonary zygomycosis, individuals may experience fever, congestion, and shortness of breath. Cutaneous manifestations of the infection often cause the affected skin to become tough, discolored, and tender. If the infection settles in one’s organs, it often induces fever and discomfort in the affected area, such as the kidneys. Other symptoms associated with this infection include impaired sensory perception and cognition, convulsions, and fatigue.

Since most exposures occur through inhalation, zygomycosis symptoms often present in the sinuses before the infection settles or becomes migratory. The development of zygomycosis symptoms may present initially mild congestion that may mimic that experienced with a seasonal allergy. When the infection remains in the sinuses, rhinocerebral infection may develop, which if left untreated can lead to blindness, blood clot formation, and neurological damage.

Due to the ubiquitous nature of the zygomycota phylum fungus, many people come into contact with some presentation of it every day without even realizing it and without developing an infectious response. Primary players in the decomposition process, zygomycota phylum fungi may be found in diverse areas, such as in the kitchen on moldy bread or outside in a leaf pile intended for composting. Most individuals who acquire zygomycota phylum-induced infection already possess compromised immunity due to the presence of a chronic condition, such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS.

Following an initial physical examination, a physician will generally order additional testing if she or he suspects mucormycosis. Imaging tests, including a computerized tomography (CT) scan, may be performed to further evaluate the condition and functionality of the affected area. Individuals presenting with zygomycosis of the skin may undergo a skin biopsy to confirm the presence of zygomycota phylum fungi.

Zygomycosis treatment is dependent on the location and severity of the infection. Individuals generally receive an intravenous administration of aggressive, antifungal drug therapy to rid their system of the fungal existence and infection. The presence of tissue decay necessitates surgery to remove the affected tissue, prevent the spread of infection, and increase one’s chance for survival. Due to the infection's aggressiveness, prompt and appropriate treatment are essential to prevent complications and premature death.

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