Fungi in the Rhizopus genus are often responsible for zygomycosis, an infection caused by colonization with fungi in the Zygomycetes class. These fungi also have some practical functions, and they can appear in the form of plant pathogens in some regions of the world. This makes them a rather diverse group.
The fungus needs a warm, moist environment to thrive. People can prevent or stave off Rhizopus infection by keeping food refrigerated or in the freezer so that the spores never get a chance to grow. In the case of crops, it can be difficult to prevent the spread of the fungus once spores start to land. The spores often burrow into the surface of the substrate, making the mold difficult to remove, since it cannot simply be brushed off.
People can become infected with Rhizopus by eating contaminated food or inhaling the spores. In rare cases, people can also be infected as a result of puncture wounds. Once the spores get into the body, they mature and start to grow spreading hyphae through the vascular system. They cause a range of health problems such as fever, cough, breathing difficulties, face and eye pain, bulging eyes, skin infection, gastrointestinal infection and peritonitis.
Zygomycosis usually appears near the area where the fungus was introduced to the body, but it can spread to regions like the brain. Antifungal medications can be used to treat the infection, although it may become problematic in someone with a compromised immune system.
These fungi also have some uses. Several species are used in the controlled fermentation of foods, especially in Asia.