India Battles ‘Black Fungus’ as Second COVID Wave Ebbs
By Staff, Agencies
While a devastating second wave of COVID-19 ebbs with less than 100,000 new cases reported on Tuesday, India is now battling a new scare: Mucormycosis, commonly referred to as “black fungus”, which is a rare fungal disease with a high mortality rate.
On Monday, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the country had more than 28,000 cases of the fungal infection.
“From 28 states, we have some 28,252 cases of mucormycosis till now. Out of this, 86 percent, or 24,370 cases, have a history of COVID-19 and 62.3 percent, or 17,601, have a history of diabetes,” Vardhan said in a meeting with a group of federal ministers.
“The highest number of cases – 6,329 – have been recorded in Maharashtra, followed by Gujarat with 5,486, and then Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Delhi, and Andhra Pradesh,” he said.
Mucormycosis causes blackening or discoloration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing of blood. Coronavirus patients with diabetes and a weakened immune system are particularly prone to attack.
Pain and redness around the eyes or nose, fever, headache, coughing, shortness of breath, bloody vomit and altered mental status are some of its symptoms.
Health experts say India’s poor air quality and excessive dust in cities, like Mumbai, make it easier for the fungi to thrive, terming the recent spike in cases a matter of “serious concern”.
While black fungus has been found in India before, the current spike in infections is among people infected with COVID-19 and those who have recovered from the disease.
Dr Sumit Mrig, who heads the ENT department at Max Smart Super Specialty Hospital in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera they used to see one or two such cases in a week before the second wave of the pandemic.
“The numbers have drastically increased this time and at present, we are seeing five to six such patients on a daily basis,” Mrig said.
He said the outbreak has “put tremendous pressure on the health infrastructure”, especially on the availability of Liposomal Amphotericin-B, the last-line drug being used to treat black fungus and which he said is “suddenly in short supply in the country”.
“Apart from the high mortality associated with disease which rapidly spreads from nose and sinuses to the eye and brain in a span of 24 to 48 hours, if treatment is not initiated on time, the patient can lose his eyesight. Once it involves the brain, the mortality is approximately 80 percent,” Mrig added