What is mucormycosis, also known as black fungus infection?

Mucormycosis, also known as black fungus infection, is an extremely rare fungal infection caused by mucor mold, which is present in plants, soil, decaying vegetables, fruits and manure. The mold may also be present in the mucus and the nose of healthy people. 

So, why does it infect some while others go unaffected? 

And what is the connection between COVID-19 infection and black fungus?

Have similar questions? Keep reading to learn more about this deadly fungus and how you can prevent it.

What causes mucormycosis (black fungus infection)?

You can get this infection if you come in contact with mucor mold. These organisms are present in compost, rotting wood, leaves, and soil.

What is the main cause of mucormycosis? Breathing the air containing these mold spores gives entry to your respiratory tract. This type of infection is known as a sinus infection. This can further spread to your eyes, lungs, face, sinuses, or central nervous system.

You can also catch the infection through a burn or a cut on your skin. 

Is mucormycosis (black fungus infection) fatal?

Yes, although the mortality rate is low. Usually, experts believe that black fungus is not readily infectious and develops due to an unusual circumstance. This is when the fungus comes in contact with injured or compromised tissue. But once the infection gets a hold of the tissue, it can multiply in your blood vessels and cut off blood supply to the tissues. This decaying tissue is the food source for the fungus and results in widespread tissue destruction. If left unattended, it may even cause death.

Is mucormycosis (black fungus infection) related to COVID?

Yes. One may be wondering why the incidence is suddenly increased during COVID.

The fungus thrives on compromised or injured tissues. Steroids are extensively used in COVID-19 patients to prevent complications.

The use of steroids modifies your immune response, increasing the risk of infection. Besides, steroids also elevate your blood sugar level, a risk factor for Mucormycosis.

Mucormycosis risk factors include:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Burns
  • Recent organ transplant
  • Cancer
  • HIV
  • Surgery
  • Diabetes

What are some complications from black fungus (mucormycosis) infection?

If left untreated, the black fungus infection may have severe complications.

Initially, the effects are seen in the area affected by the mucor mold. However, this can soon spread to adjacent tissues.

As we learned before, the fungus rapidly destroys the tissues and thrives on them. The surgeon has to remove the dead tissue with the fungus, with some normal tissue around it, to stop its spread. For instance, if the fungus infects the eye orbit, the eye may have to be removed.

Depending on the location of the infection, Mucormycosis may result in the following complications:

  • Meningitis (inflammation of the connective tissues of the brain and spinal cord)
  • Bleeding in the respiratory tract
  • Bleeding in the digestive tract
  • Blindness
  • Brain abscess
  • Osteomyelitis (infection of a bone)

The prognosis of Mucormycosis varies based on how soon the condition was diagnosed, your health, your response to the treatment, and the area infected. For instance, the prognosis of the digestive system and brain infection is worse than other types.

Besides, individuals surviving this infection may have surgery-associated disabilities, including limb loss, blindness, and organ dysfunction.

How to diagnose black fungus infection?

Your doctor may diagnose the condition based on the physical check, your symptoms, and the risk of getting the infection.

They may use imaging tests such as MRI or CT to understand the extent of the infection. In cases of doubt, a biopsy of the infected tissue may help to confirm the diagnosis. 

How to Treat a black fungus infection?

It is crucial that the treatment of mucormycosis be aggressive and fast. The reason being the rapid speed with which the fungus infects your body parts. And once it damages the tissues, it cannot be reversed. 

Most patients with the infection need medical and surgical treatment:

Surgical removal of the infected tissues is necessary for almost all patients with black fungus infection. 

Medications play a dual role. Antifungals help to halt or slow the spread of the infection and medicines to treat any disease a patient may have. Common antifungals are Amphotericin B, isavuconazole, and posaconazole

An individual on steroids may need to stop taking the medication as it provides a preferable environment for the fungus to grow and multiply. 

How to prevent a black fungus infection?

Humidity and weakened immunity are major contributors to the infection. Here are some precautions that may help you:

  • Regular washing of the mask and ensure it is dry (prevent moisture retention)
  • Wear a mask or a face shield while working in a garden or a construction site
  • Maintain personal hygiene
  • Treat underlying health conditions, especially diabetes
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