Doctors in India are battling a deadly fungal infection that affects patients with COVID-19 or those who have recovered from the disease amid a wave of coronavirus that has brought the country’s deaths to nearly 300,000.
The life-threatening condition, known as mucormycosis, is relatively rare, but doctors suspect that the sudden rise in the disease infection it could further complicate India’s fight against the pandemic.
India has reported more than 26 million confirmed cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began, with nearly half in the past two months. On Sunday, the Ministry of Health reported 3,741 new deaths, leading to 299,266 confirmed fatalities in India.
It also reported 240,842 new infections, as daily cases remained below 300,000 for a week. The numbers are almost certainly low, and many cases are likely to be lost due to limited evidence.
Experts say new infections in India, which had risen sharply, could eventually slow down. But there are some early indications that mucormycosis, also known as “black fungus,” is fast becoming a cause for concern.
Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to mucous mold, which is commonly found in the soil, air, and even in the nose and mucus of humans. It spreads through the airways and erodes facial structures. Sometimes doctors have to surgically remove the eye to prevent the infection from reaching the brain.
On Saturday, Federal Minister Sadananda Gowda said nearly 9,000 cases had been reported in India so far, leading to a shortage of amphotericin B, the drug used to treat the disease.
Gowda did not share the death toll, but local media have said more than 250 have died as a result of the disease.
Health officials were working to alleviate the drug shortage, which comes at a time when the country no longer has oxygen supplies and other health needs, Gowda said.
Mucormycosis has a high mortality rate and was already present in India before the pandemic. It is not contagious, but its frequency over the last month has left doctors shocked.
“It’s a new challenge and things seem bleak,” said Ambrish Mithal, chairman and head of the endocrinology and diabetes department at Max Healthcare, a private hospital chain in India.
Mithal said the fungal infection preys on patients with weakened immune systems and underlying conditions, especially diabetes, and irrational steroid use. Uncontrolled blood sugar can make immunocompromised people at higher risk for the disease.
“I used to come across a few cases every year, but the current infection rate is appalling,” Mithal said.
The latest increase in coronavirus infections in rural India has already taken its toll. Now health experts are concerned that over-the-counter medications, including steroids, may increase the prevalence of mucormycosis.
SK Pandey, a medical officer at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, said unqualified doctors were giving steroids to patients in many rural areas without thinking about whether or not they needed them. .
“This has led to an increase in cases of black fungus in smaller cities where the patient has not even been hospitalized,” he said.
The Indian Ministry of Health on Thursday called on states to monitor the spread of the disease and declare it an epidemic, making it mandatory for all medical centers to report cases to a federal surveillance network.
On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the disease a “new challenge”.
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