Mucormycosis, a very rare infection, also called “black fungus” has been detected in many COVID-19 patients in India and may be behind the increasing mortality rate. At least eight coronavirus survivors have died due to this fungal infection, during treatment in Maharashtra.
Doctors are recording a rash of cases involving this rare infection among recovering and recovered COVID-19 patient. Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to mucor mould which is commonly found in soil, plants, manure and decaying fruits and vegetables. Dr Akshay Nair, a Mumbai-based eye surgeon, told the BBC that it is ubiquitous and found in soil and air, and even in the nose and mucus of healthy people. He had found this infection in a 25-year-old woman who had recovered from a bout of COVID-19 three weeks ago. “It affects the sinuses, the brain and the lungs and can be life-threatening in diabetic or severely immunocompromised individuals, such cancer patients or people with HIV/AIDS,” Dr Nair explained.
Dr Tatyarao Lahane, who heads the Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER), highlighted that eight out of 200 such patients treated so far in various parts of Maharashtra have died due to mucormycosis. “They survived COVID-19 infection but the fungal infection attacked their weak immune system which proved fatal,” Dr Lahane said.
He pointed out that fungal disease is already known but the cases are increasing because of COVID-19 related complications, wherein the use of steroids elevates the sugar level in blood while some medicines result in suppression of immunity of patients. “In such a scenario, the black fungus infects the patient easily and spreads. If the fungus reaches the brain of the infected person, it can prove fatal. In one such case, one of the eyes of the patient had to be removed permanently to save his life.”
Dr Lahane said mucormycosis is a serious fungal infection that is found among people with a low level of immunity as well as among those suffering from chronic diabetes, or those who have gone through a kidney transplant among others. “Though this fungus is present in the environment, people with suppressed immunity as well as who have received steroids during COVID treatment are more susceptible to it.” COVID patients with co-morbidities are also vulnerable and can catch the infection early.
He said the general symptoms of mucormycosis include headache, fever, pain under the eyes, nasal or sinus congestion, and partial loss of vision among others. “A patient generally needs a particular type of injection to be given for 21 days. The basic cost of this injection comes around Rs 9,000 per day. Treatment expenditure escalates with other facilities and medicines etc.”