The Indian government has directed doctors to look out for signs of mucormycosis or "black fungus" in Covid-19 patients as hospitals in the country have seen a rise in cases of the rare but potentially fatal infection.
Here are 10 important facts about the fatal fungal infection:
- According to a report published on NDTV's website, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said at the weekend that doctors treating Covid-19 patients, diabetics and those with compromised immune systems should watch for early symptoms including sinus pain or nasal blockage on one side of the face, one-sided headache, swelling or numbness, toothache and loosening of teeth.
- The disease strongly linked to diabetes can lead to blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood
- According to ICMR, Covid-19 patients who, during their treatment, have had prolonged stays in hospital ICUs and used steriods to treat the viral infection are more susceptible to contracting the fungal infection.
- In an interview with Reuters, David Denning, a professor at Manchester University and an expert at the Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections charity, said "There have been cases reported in several other countries - including the UK, the US, France, Austria, Brazil and Mexico, but the volume is much bigger in India,". Reports suggest that diabetes can in turn be exacerbated by steroids such as dexamethasone, used to treat severe Covid-19.
- Media reports have pointed to cases in Maharashtra and state capital Mumbai, and Gujarat, reports NDTV. Aparna Mukherjee, a scientist at ICMR, said, "It's not something to panic about, but you have to be aware of when to seek consultation."
- Fead of the Centre of Advanced Research in Medical Mycology in India's Chandigarh, Arunaloke Chakrabarti said that even before Covid-19, mucormycosis was more common in India than in most countries, "partly because of the millions who have diabetes".
- Head of opthalmology at Fortis Hospital in Mulund, Mumbai P Suresh said his hospital had treated at least 10 such patients in the past two weeks, roughly twice as many as in the entire year before the pandemic. All had been infected with Covid-19 and most were diabetic or had received immunosuppressant drugs. Some had died, and some had lost their eyesight, he said.
- The Indian health ministry on Sunday released an advisory on how to treat the infection reports NDTV. In an interview with AFP, Ahmedabad-based infectious diseases specialist Atul Patel, a member of the state's Covid-19 taskforce, said "The cases of mucormycosis infection in Covid-19 patients post-recovery is nearly four to five times than those reported before the pandemic."
- Some 300 cases have been reported so far in four cities in Gujarat, including its largest Ahmedabad, according to data from state-run hospitals. The state ordered government hospitals to set up separate treatment wards for patients infected with "black fungus" amid the rise in cases, reports NDTV.
- Treatment of the deadly fungus involves surgically removing all dead and infected tissue and administering a course of anti-fungal therapy. But in an interview with AFP, Yogesh Dabholkar, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Mumbai's DY Patil Hospital, said that the drugs used to treat those infected with the fungus were expensive, reports NDTV.