INDIA is grappling with a scourge of black fungal infections linked to the mutant variant of the coronavirus – with a death rate of over 50%.
Doctors have sounded the alarm after tens of thousands of cases of mucormycosis, a flesh-eating disease, hit hospitals already overwhelmed with Covid patients.
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India said it was an outbreak in May when at least 11,000 patients developed mucormycosis after recovering from Covid.
Now the figure is estimated at more than 28,000, with hundreds of deaths.
The huge spike in infections has led some experts to believe it is the virulent new strain Delta sweeping the country behind it.
Mucormycosis is a rare disease that can kill people with weakened immune systems.
It is caused by common molds found in soils, which, when inhaled, can attack the lungs and sinuses before spreading to the face, brain, and other organs.
It causes darkening of the nose and eyes, blurred or double vision, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.
And if not caught early, death rates range from 46% to 96%, according to the US agency the CDC.
Many survivors need drastic surgery to remove the aggressive flesh-eating fungus – around 60% of patients in India needing at least one eye removed as well as parts of their face.
Initially, the explosion of cases was blamed on the overuse of steroids to treat Covid.
Steroids weaken the immune system and make patients vulnerable to other infections.
But now, many doctors believe it is the Indian Delta variant itself that is causing the disease, reports the Daily Telegraph.
The virus is believed to damage the pancreas and trigger rapid-onset diabetes and increased blood sugar levels, which allows the fungus to thrive.
Dr Shailesh Kothalkar, a prominent ear, nose and throat surgeon in Nagpur, said he would normally only see two or three mucormycosis per year.
Since March, when the second wave hit, he has treated over 280 patients and operated on 151.
“This new variant damages the beta cells in the pancreas, which produce insulin and regulate blood sugar,” said Dr Kothalkar.
“We need more investigation on this, but we are seeing this regarding a new pandemic, around 40% more patients develop diabetes after having Covid-19 during this second wave. ”
Dr Shrinivas Chavan, ENT surgeon in Mumbai, said: “There was also heavy steroid use during the first wave of Covid-19 in India, but we have not seen this increase in cases of mucormycosis.
“I had seen 45 patients in my entire career and now we have had 66 patients admitted in just one month. In the past five days, we’ve barely slept, we’ve had 40 surgeries.
There has also been an alarming increase in cases in neighboring Nepal, where the Indian variant is dominant.
And studies suggest that other variants besides the Indian mutation can also trigger diabetes.
Last week, the first cases of the deadly black fungus linked to Covid were recorded in Chile and Uruguay.
WHAT IS MUCORMYCOSIS?
Mucormycosis is the name used for any fungal infection caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes.
These molds live throughout the environment. Mucormycosis mainly affects people who have health problems or who take drugs that decrease the body’s ability to fight germs and disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms vary depending on where the fungus is growing.
Symptoms of rhinocerebral (sinus and brain) mucormycosis include:
- One-sided facial swelling
- Nasal or sinus congestion
- Black lesions on the nasal bridge or the upper part of the inside of the mouth that get worse quickly
Symptoms of pulmonary (lung) mucormycosis include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms of gastrointestinal mucormycosis include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
It comes as the Indian variant threatens UK ministers’ plans to end social distancing, but keep face masks and homeworking in place after June 21.
The mutation is responsible for almost three-quarters of all cases in the UK and has been found in more than 250 of the more than 300 UK authorities.
But the successful deployment of the vaccine in the UK is believed to be responsible for the low number of recent deaths – despite the increase in cases of the Indian mutation.