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Health and Disease

A Look Into India’s Black Fungus Epidemic

As India’s COVID cases skyrocket each day, doctors have recently been reporting a rash of cases of a rare infection: the black fungus. Cases are seen mostly among recovering and recovered COVID-19 patients. In this article we will be debunking the facts about the new Black Fungus Infection of India.

By Manasvi Meka

Published 11:35 PM EST, Wed July 14, 2021

What is it?

The black fungus infection of India, also known as “mucormycosis,” is a very rare infection. It isn’t contagious and doesn’t spread from one person to another.  It is caused by exposure to “mucor” that is found in soil, plants, manure, and decaying fruits or vegetables. It affects the sinuses in the brain and causes severe damage in immunocompromised and diabetic patients. Diabetes not only increases a person’s risk for COVID-19 but can also provide conditions in which fungal infection can occur. Mucormycosis begins as a skin infection, but it later progresses to the eyes, lungs, jaws, face, and even to the brain. Dr. Hemant Thacker explains that “One of the ways mucormycosis travels is by invading the blood vessels.” Mucormycosis also blocks blood flow which kills infected tissue, once it dies or becomes necrotic, the tissue has a black discoloration. Thus the term “black fungus” has spread.

Fatality Rates + Process of Attack

Doctors currently believe that the mortality rate of the black fungus is 50%, which may be triggered by the steroids used to treat COVID-19. While steroids help to fight against COVID-19, they also happen to make the body less immune and spike up blood sugar levels. For example, dexamethasone, a drug used to treat COVID-19 suppresses the immunity of an individual, providing a greater leeway for the fungal infection to prevail.   Since there is a drop in immunity when a body gets attacked by COVID-19, patients are becoming far more susceptible to this deadly disease. Dr. VP Pandey, head of the hospital at Maharaja Yeshwantrao Hospital, says that “The black fungus infection has now become more challenging than Covid-19. If patients are not treated in time and properly, then the mortality rate can go up to 94%. The cost of treatment is expensive, and the drugs are in short supply.” 

Symptoms + Treatment

Dr. Anita Mathew, an Infectious disease specialist from Fortis Hospital explains that some of the common symptoms of mucormycosis include sinusitis (nasal blockage or congestion), pain on the cheekbone, facial pain, numbness or swelling, black discoloration over the nose, loosening of teeth (jaw involvement), blurred or double vision with pain, chest pain, or severe respiratory problems.  Mucormycosis is treated with anti-fungal medicines, such as Amphotericin B, taken intravenously. Demand for Amphotericin B is rising continuously every day in India. Other medications like posaconazole or isavuconazole (anti-fungal medicines) can also be taken either intravenously or by mouth.  Another potential treatment is to have surgery in order to remove the necrotic tissue. The disease itself is pretty rare and, according to the San Francisco Bay Area, during 1992-1993, the number of mucormycosis cases was around 1.7 cases per 1 million people. However, due to the prevalence of COVID in India, the risk of getting diagnosed with this disease is on the rise. Even though mucormycosis is a rare disease, please do not disregard it as it could have serious consequences. Additionally, many doctors believe that the most effective way to combat mucormycosis is to wear a mask while venturing out especially to gardens or dusty areas (where chances of inhaling mucor are on the rise). Also, diabetic and immunocompromised individuals should take efforts to control glucose levels. And most importantly, if ANY of the symptoms written above persist, please call your local doctor immediately to get help.

Manasvi Meka, Youth Medical Journal 2021

References

  1. Biswas, Soutik. “Mucormycosis: The ‘Black Fungus’ Maiming Covid Patients in India.” BBC News, BBC, 9 May 2021,.https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-57027829
  1. Biswas, Soutik. “Black Fungus: India Reports Nearly 9,000 Cases of Rare Infection.” BBC News, BBC, 23 May 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-57217246
  1. Yeung, Jessie, and Vedika Sud. “They Recovered from Covid, Only to Die of ‘Black Fungus.’ Here’s What We Know.” CNN, Cable News Network, 24 May 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/21/india/black-fungus-mucormycosis-covid-explainer-intl-hnk/index.html
  1. “Mucormycosis Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 May 2020, www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/mucormycosis/statistics.html. 
  1. Citroner, George. “How COVID-19 Surge Is Related to a Black Fungus Outbreak.” Healthline, 26 May 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-covid-19-surge-is-related-to-a-black-fungus-outbreak
  1. “’Black Fungus’ (Mucormycosis) and COVID-19: Myths and Facts.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 4 June 2021, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/black-fungus-and-covid-19-myths-and-facts
  2. R, Nivedita. “Black Fungus: Why Is It Dangerous And How to Prevent It: Doctor Explains.” India News, Breaking News | India.com, 20 May 2021, www.india.com/health/black-fungus-why-is-it-dangerous-and-how-to-protect-ourselves-from-it-doctor-explains-4677817/ 

By Manasvi Meka

Manasvi is a freshman in high school in Oregon. She is currently interested in biology, chemistry, and medicine.

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