NEW DELHI – Doctors in India were fighting a fungal infection that affected patients of COVID-19 or to people recovered from the disease, amid a coronavirus outbreak that was approaching 300,000 deaths in the country.
The dangerous infection, known as mucormicosis, is relatively rare, but doctors fear that its sudden increase could further complicate the India’s fight against the pandemic.
India has reported more than 26 million confirmed cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, with almost half of the infections in the last two months. The Indian Ministry of Health reported 3,741 new deaths on Sunday, bringing confirmed deaths to 299,266 people.
It also reported 240,842 new patients, to close a week with less than 300,000 daily cases. The numbers are almost certainly below the true scope of the virus, as the limited ability to do diagnostic tests is likely to leave many cases unidentified.
Experts believe that new infections in India, which had risen drastically, may finally be slowing down. But there is some indication 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 soil, air, and even on the human nose and mucosa. It spreads through the respiratory system and erodes the facial structures. Sometimes doctors have to surgically remove the eye to prevent the infection from reaching the brain.
Nearly 9,000 cases have been reported in India so far, Federal Minister Sadananda Gowda said, causing a shortage of amphotericin B, the antibiotic used to treat the disease.
Gowda did not give a death toll, although local media have reported more than 250 deaths from the infection.
Health authorities were working to alleviate the drug shortage, at a time when the country is already short of oxygen and other medical resources, Gowda said.
Mucormycosis has a high mortality rate and existed in India before the pandemic. It is not contagious, but its frequency in the last month has surprised doctors.
“It’s a new challenge and things are looking bad,” said Ambrish Mithal, chairman and director of the department of diabetes and endocrinology at Max Healtchare, a chain of private hospitals in India.
The fungal infection strikes patients with weakened immune systems and previous health problems, especially diabetes, or who have received poorly reasoned steroid treatment, Mithal said. Having uncontrolled blood sugar can increase the risk that immunosuppressed people will contract the disease.
“I used to find a couple of cases a year, but the current infection rate is scary,” Mithal said.
In many rural areas, low-skilled doctors gave steroids, which can increase the prevalence of the disease, to patients without thinking if they needed them, said SK Pandey, a medical officer at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Uttar Pradesh state. Lucknow city.
“This has led to an increase in black fungus cases in smaller cities where patients have not even been hospitalized,” he said.
The Indian Health Ministry called on states to monitor the spread of the fungal infection and declare it an epidemic, forcing all medical centers to report cases to a federal monitoring network.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday described the disease as a “new challenge.”