Mucormycosis (Zygomycosis) Treatment & Management

Updated: Sep 10, 2018
  • Author: Philip J McDonald, MD; Chief Editor: Pranatharthi Haran Chandrasekar, MBBS, MD  more...
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Approach Considerations

Patients with mucormycosis should be treated in a tertiary care center with subspecialty units experienced in the management of this condition and its underlying risk factors. Correction of the underlying abnormality, prompt initiation of liposomal amphotericin B therapy, and surgical resection are critical. [1, 31, 35]

Other important considerations in medical management include the following:

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis requires insulin and volume repletion with intravenous fluids.
  • Neutropenia associated with hematologic malignancy and its treatment should be reversed, if possible, with the use of colony-stimulating factors and the withdrawal of cytotoxic chemotherapy.
  • Wean glucocorticosteroids and other immunosuppressive drugs.
  • Interrupt deferoxamine therapy; hydroxypyridine chelating agents may be substituted for deferoxamine

The use of contaminated bandages and other dressings has caused cutaneous mucormycosis. Failure to examine areas under dressings or to recognize the significance of deterioration in preexisting wounds may produce severe cutaneous and, ultimately, disseminated disease. Place patients with severe prolonged neutropenia in rooms equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, when feasible. Secondary prophylaxis is often used after therapy among patients who remain immunocompromised. [1]


Antifungal Therapy

No prospective comparative studies of the primary treatment of mucormycosis have been performed, largely because of the rarity of this disease. In current practice, amphotericin B and isavuconazole are the two antifungal agents licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the primary therapy of mucormycosis. First-line treatment is with an amphotericin derivative, preferably the liposomal form of amphotericin B to minimize nephrotoxicity. Other options include amphotericin B deoxycholate, isavuconazole, and posaconazole.

Although some reports have described a combination of different classes of antifungal agents, trials are needed to determine the efficacy of this approach. [36] Potential advantages would include more rapid fungicidal activity and lower risk of resistance. Potential disadvantages would include the risk for antagonism, additive or synergistic toxicity, more drug-drug interactions, and higher cost. [37]

Liposomal and lipid complex amphotericin B

Amphotericin B has proven efficacy in the treatment of mucormycosis. At the present time, the liposomal formulation (AmBisome) is the drug of choice based on efficacy and safety data. [38, 39, 40] Lipid preparations of amphotericin B are used at 5 mg/kg/d. [1] Some have used doses of up to 7.5-10 mg/kg/d to treat mucormycosis, especially CNS disease [38] . The use of higher doses, however, has been associated with rates of nephrotoxicity up to 40% without a concomitant mortality benefit. [31, 36, 41, 42]

Amphotericin B

Amphotericin B deoxycholate can also be used to treat mucormycosis, particularly when other formulations prove too costly. The typical dose is 1-1.5 mg/kg/d. The total dose given over the course of therapy is usually 2.5-3 g. High doses of this drug are required, and nephrotoxicity may result. This is of particular concern since many patients who develop mucormycosis have preexisting renal disease (eg, diabetics, transplant recipients). Monitor the renal function of patients taking amphotericin B; doubling of serum creatinine over the baseline levels is an indication for changing to liposomal amphotericin B.

In addition, careful monitoring and repletion of serum electrolytes (eg, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium) should be performed when administering any formulation of amphotericin B.


Isavuconazole (Cresemba) is a novel triazole antifungal agent that was approved for the treatment of mucormycosis in March 2015. The prodrug isavuconazonium sulfate is rapidly metabolized by serum butylcholinesterase to the active form, isavuconazole (ISZ). [34]

The efficacy of isavuconazole in the treatment of invasive mucormycosis has not been evaluated in randomized controlled trials because of the rarity of this disease. The approval of this medication was based on a noncomparative, single-arm, open-label, matched, case-control trial (VITAL). Of 149 patients enrolled, 37 had proven (86%) or probable (14%) mucormycosis. Twenty-one patients received primary treatment with ISZ, while 11 patients received ISZ salvage therapy; 5 were intolerant to other antifungals. Controls treated with amphotericin (67% liposomal, 12% lipid complex, 21% deoxycholate) were matched from the Fungiscope Registry. Isavuconazole- and amphotericin-treated patients had similar day-42 weighted all-cause mortality at 33% and 41%, respectively. Patients received ISZ for a median of 84 days versus 18 for amphotericin, suggesting more favorable tolerability. [43]

Isavuconazole offers several advantages over other triazoles (ie, posaconazole, voriconazole), apart from its wider spectrum of antifungal activity. The drug has excellent oral bioavailability not reliant on food intake or gastric pH and is also available in an intravenous formulation, which does not contain the nephrotoxic solubilizing agent cyclodextrin. Switching between oral and IV forms does not require dose adjustment. ISZ displays linear and predictable pharmacokinetics with minimal CYP3A4 interactions, reducing or eliminating the need for therapeutic drug monitoring. Unlike voriconazole, ISZ does not cause phototoxicity, increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma, or visual disturbance. The clinical significance of ISZ-related QTc shortening is unknown, but it is reasonable to avoid this medication in patients with familial short QT syndrome and to avoid co-administrating with sodium channel–blocking antiepileptics. [44]

Given the highly variable, species-dependent susceptibility pattern of the Mucorales to isavuconazole, clinical susceptibility testing may be indicated in some situations. [45]


Posaconazole, another triazole antifungal, has been shown to be superior to fluconazole or itraconazole as prophylaxis against invasive mold infection (both aspergillosis and mucormycosis) in patients with hematologic malignancy who have neutropenia or GVHD. The number needed to treat (NNT) to prevent one fungal infection was 27 and to prevent one death was 35. [46]

Posaconazole can be used for off-label salvage treatment of mucormycosis in patients intolerant to amphotericin B. Issues with the absorption of the oral suspension of posaconazole, particularly decreased absorption in the setting of proton pump inhibitor (PPI) or antimotility agent (eg, metoclopramide) use have been overcome with the introduction of a delayed-release tablet formulation. [38, 34] An intravenous formulation is also available. Therapeutic drug monitoring may still be considered in patients on potent CYP450 inhibitors.

Several case reports have discussed the use of posaconazole, [32, 47] including as salvage therapy. [48] A review of 96 patients treated with posaconazole found that complete response was achieved in 62 (64.6%), partial response in 7 (7.3%) patients, and stable disease in 1 (1%), with an overall mortality of 24% (no data for 3 patients). [49] Rickerts et al reported that liposomal amphotericin B plus posaconazole was successful in the treatment of disseminated mucormycosis in a patient who could not undergo surgery; however, the benefit of dual antifungal therapy is unclear (see below). [50, 36]

Posaconazole has also been used as step-down therapy after the initial administration and control of the disease with liposomal amphotericin B. [51, 52]

Other agents and combination therapy

Other azoles (ie, fluconazole, voriconazole) are ineffective against Mucorales species. With the use of voriconazole prophylaxis in high-risk patients, such as transplant recipients, mucormycosis has been reported. [53, 54, 55]

Most Mucorales species show moderate in vitro resistance to the echinocandins; these agents cannot be used alone in the treatment of mucormycosis. [15] Animal and limited clinical data have suggested that combination therapy with amphotericin and an echinocandin may improve survival. [38, 39, 56, 57, 58] However, a recent retrospective cohort study of combination liposomal amphotericin B (L-AmB) with posaconazole, L-AmB with echinocandins, and posaconazole with echinocandins showed no differences in mortality between monotherapy and combination treatment groups. [59] The in vitro combinations of isavuconazole with micafungin or amphotericin resulted in a range of interactions, some concentration-dependent, ranging from antagonism to synergy against various Mucorales. [60]

Further clinical trials are needed before antifungal combination therapy can be definitively recommended.


Surgical Intervention

Debridement of necrotic tissue in combination with medical therapy is mandatory for patient survival. In rhinocerebral disease, surgical care includes drainage of the sinuses and may require excision of the orbital contents and involved brain (see the following image). Repeated surgery may be required, especially for rhinocerebral mucormycosis.

Excise pulmonary lesions if they are localized to a single lobe, excise cutaneous lesions entirely, and resect any GI masses.

An immunocompetent man who sustained a high-pressu An immunocompetent man who sustained a high-pressure water jet injury, resulting in rhinocerebral mucormycosis. Traumatic inoculation of Apophysomyces elegans was the pathogenetic mechanism. A surgical field of this patient is shown. Excision of the right orbit, maxillary antrum, nasal cavity, sphenoid sinus, and infratemporal fossa has taken place. The tissue was infarcted. Courtesy of A Allworth, MD, Brisbane, Australia.

Adjunctive Therapies

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy after surgical debridement has been used, especially in cases of cutaneous disease and rhinocerebral disease in diabetics, but its effectiveness has not been extensively studied. Treatment of mucormycosis is not currently one of the approved uses of hyperbaric oxygen. [47, 61] High oxygen concentrations may improve neutrophil function, inhibit the growth of Mucorales, and improve wound healing.

Colony-stimulating factors have been used to enhance immune responses, specifically in neutropenic patients, as have interferon-gamma and white blood cell transfusions. The usefulness of these interventions is unclear.

Finally, the use of iron chelators without xenosiderophore activity (eg, deferasirox) has been described in case reports. [61] Older iron chelators, namely deferoxamine, can be exploited as an iron source by Rhizopus, thereby increasing the risk of mucormycosis. [34] Newer agents such as deferasirox were hypothesized to decrease the risk of mucormycosis via iron starvation; however, they have not proven clinically efficacious. [62] In an immunosuppressed murine model of pulmonary mucormycosis, a combination of deferasirox with posaconazole increased the AUC/MIC of posaconazole but failed to demonstrate improved efficacy over monotherapy. [63] In the DEFEAT study, 20 patients with mucormycosis were randomly assigned to L-AmB plus deferasirox or L-AmB plus placebo; the deferasirox arm had a higher 90-day mortality rate. [64, 65]



Patient survival from mucormycosis requires rapid diagnosis and aggressive coordinated medical and surgical therapy. To that effect, consultations with various specialists are critical.

Infectious disease consultation is warranted for management of antifungal therapy and coordination of medical care.

Surgical specialty consultations depend on the location of disease, as follows:

  • Otolaryngology (ENT) consultation and neurosurgery consultation for rhinocerebral mucormycosis
  • Thoracic surgery consultation for pulmonary involvement
  • Gastroenterology (GI) surgery consultation for gastrointestinal involvement
  • Plastic surgery consultation for cutaneous involvement

In addition, endocrinology consultation may be necessary for the management of unstable diabetes, hematology/oncology consultation may be needed for the management of issues related to underlying malignancy, and surgical intensive care unit (SICU) consultation is important for perioperative care.


Duration of Therapy and Long-Term Monitoring

Ongoing clinical surveillance and diagnostic imaging are required to ensure complete resolution of mucormycosis and to detect relapse.

The duration of therapy is highly individualized and should encompass the resolution of associated symptoms and findings, normalization of radiographic findings (with the exception of radiographic findings thought to be the result of postinflammatory or postoperative scar formation), negative cultures from the affected site, and resolution of immunosuppression. [1, 31, 35]

Successful courses of amphotericin B typically last 4-6 weeks. Primary or salvage isavuconazole therapy may be continued for several months given its higher tolerability compared with amphotericin. Repeated surgical debridement of necrotic tissue identified by follow-up head computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is often indicated.

For patients who successfully complete therapy for mucormycosis and who subsequently require immunosuppressive treatments (eg, chemotherapy in a patient with cancer), whether daily oral posaconazole or isavuconazole should be given as secondary prophylaxis against disease relapse is unknown. Evidence-based data on the best strategy for secondary prophylaxis are not currently available. [1] Owing to their broad spectrum of anti-mold activity, safety, tolerability and oral bioavailability, there is considerable potential for inappropriate empiric and prophylactic use of the newer triazole antifungals. [44]

Educate patients about the signs of disease, such as facial swelling and black nasal discharge, and instruct patients to present promptly for evaluation if these signs occur.