NEW DELHI (AP) — Doctors in India
are battling a fatal fungal infection affecting COVID-19
patients or those who have recovered from the disease, as the country suffers from a coronavirus
surge that has killed nearly 300,000 people
The life-threatening condition, known as mucormycosis, is relatively uncommon, but doctors believe the sudden increase in infection may complicate India's fight against the pandemic
Since the start of the pandemic, India has reported more than 26 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with nearly half occurring in the last two months. On Sunday, the Health
Ministry reported 3,741 new deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths in India to 299,266.
It also reported 240,842 new infections, as daily cases remained below 300,000 for a week, implying that the figures are almost certainly undercounts, with many cases likely missed due to limited testing.
Experts believe that the sharp increase in new infections in India may be slowing, but there are some early signs that mucormycosis, also known as “black fungus
,” is quickly becoming a source of concern.
Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to mucor mold, which is commonly found in soil, air, and even in human noses and mucus. It spreads through the respiratory tract and erodes facial structures, and doctors must sometimes surgically remove the eye to prevent the infection from spreading to the brain
On Saturday, federal minister Sadananda Gowda stated that nearly 9,000 cases have been reported in India thus far, resulting in a shortage of Amphotericin B, the drug used to treat the condition.
Gowda did not provide a number of fatalities, but local media
reported that more than 250 people died as a result of the disease.
According to Gowda, health officials were working to alleviate the drug shortage, which comes at a time when the country was already short on oxygen and other health-care supplies.
Mucormycosis has a high mortality rate and was already present in India prior to the pandemic; it is not contagious, but its frequency in the last month has shocked doctors.
“It is a new challenge, and things are looking bleak,” Ambrish Mithal, chairman and head of the endocrinology and diabetes department at Max Healthcare, an Indian private hospital chain, said.
According to Mithal, the fungal infection preys on patients with weakened immune systems and underlying conditions, particularly diabetes and irrational steroid use. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can put immunocompromised people at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
“Previously, I only encountered a few cases per year, but the current infection rate is terrifying,” Mithal said.
The recent surge in coronavirus infections in rural India has already had an impact, and health experts are concerned that over-the-counter medications, including steroids, may increase the prevalence of mucormycosis.
According to SK Pandey, a medical officer at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, unqualified doctors are giving steroids to patients in many rural areas without considering whether they need it or not.
“As a result, there has been an increase in black fungus cases in smaller cities where the patient was not even hospitalized,” he said.
The Health Ministry of India asked states on Thursday to track the spread of the condition and declare it an epidemic, making all medical facilities required to report cases to a federal surveillance network.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the disease as a "new challenge" on Friday.