Oh Crap, Fungus Can Grow In Your Brain

Illustration for article titled Oh Crap, Fungus Can Grow In Your Brain

Here’s a good reason not to get out of bed. A common fungus can sometimes get snorted up into your nose, contaminate your blood vessels, and grow in your eyes and your brain. Feel like going outside? I didn’t think so.


Above is a picture of the spore of a group of fungi called Mucoromycotina. Pick a place in your garden, and you’ll probably find this fungi. It’s in the dirt. It’s in the decaying leaves. It’s definitely in the compost pile. And, most likely, it’s in your nose.

The fact that this fungi is in your nose is absolutely no problem for most people. Unfortunately, it only takes one depressed immune system and one adventurous spore for something horrible to start happening. That horrible thing is called rhinocerebral mucormycosis. Fungus gets into the blood vessels and moves towards the front of the face, where it gets into the cheeks, the nose, the eyes, and even the brain. The fungus itself isn’t the only threat. Inflammation kicks in as the body fights the invasion. That inflammation begins choking off the flood flow and starving tissue of life.


This kind of thing is incredibly rare, but it is a reminder of how hard the immune system works to keep everything around us from murdering us. This fungus is everywhere, but it’s only a danger to people with depressed immune systems. People at comparatively greater risk for this kind of thing include people with diabetes or cancer, HIV patients and patients who have gotten organ transfers. Anyone with a depressed immune system has a higher chance of getting this infection.

And then there are the inexplicable cases. In May of 2011, a tornado hit Joplin, Missouri. It killed over one hundred and fifty people. Several of those victims died of mucormycosis. Officials had no answer to why such a rare disease struck the victims of a tornado. They could only encourage anyone whose wounds failed to heal to seek treatment as soon as possible. After mid-June, the infection cases subsided.

Image: CDC

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


Dr Emilio Lizardo

When you start to understand all the things that can kill you, it becomes kind of amazing that most of us make it through the day alive.