India: Black fungus epidemic discussed by health experts
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India has ordered tighter surveillance of a rare fungal disease hitting COVID-19 patients piling pressure on hospitals struggling with the world’s highest number of daily infections of the novel coronavirus. Mucormycosis, or “black fungus” usually infects people whose immune system has been compromised, causing blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties, and coughing blood. Doctors believe that the use of steroids to treat severe COVID-19 could be causing the rash of cases because those drugs reduce immunity and push up sugar levels.
Internal Medicine Specialist Rommel Tickoo told DW News: “Mucormycosis has a high mortality rate especially for patients who don’t get diagnosed early enough.
“It has more than 50 percent mortality.
“Most of the time it involves surgery which can be disfiguring especially with the commons variety that we see rhinocerebral mucor, where we have to remove the dead tissue from the face.”
The disease is not contagious, which means that it cannot spread from contact between humans or animals.
But it does spread from fungal spores that are present in the air or in the environment, which are almost impossible to avoid.
K Bhujang Shetty, head of Narayana Nethralaya a specialty eye hospital said: “Bacteria and fungi are present in our bodies already, but they are kept in check by the body’s immune system.
“When the immune system goes down because of cancer treatment, diabetes or use of steroids, then these organisms get an upper hand and they multiply.”
Arunaloke Chakrabarti, head of the Center of Advanced Research in Medical Mycology in the Indian city of Chandigarh and an adviser to GAFFI, said that even before COVID-19, mucormycosis was more common in India than in most countries, “partly because of the millions who have diabetes”.
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He said serious cases might require specific antifungal therapy and several operations.
P Suresh, head of ophthalmology at Fortis Hospital in Mulund, Mumbai, 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.
Other doctors spoke of a similar surge in cases.
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It comes as India will provide free COVID-19 vaccines to all adults, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday, in an effort to rein in a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and led to the world’s second-highest tally of infections.
Modi’s announcement on national television came after weeks of criticism of a bungled vaccine rollout that has covered fewer than 5% of India’s estimated adult population of 950 million.
Health experts have warned that vaccination is the only way to protect lives from a third wave of infections after a surge in April-May overwhelmed hospitals in the big cities and in the vast hinterland.
Modi said the federal government would take over the vaccination programme from the states from June 21, reversing a policy under which states were running a part of it.
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