Thousands of COVID-19 patients in India have been diagnosed with mucormycosis, or so-called “black fungus” that’s leaving some with vision loss. The rare but serious fungal infection is caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes, which live throughout the environment and typically do not agitate otherwise healthy people, but can be problematic in those who have health issues or take medications that lower the body’s ability to fight off germs and sickness.
In India, a health care system overwhelmed by recent coronavirus surges and short medical supplies may be contributing to the spread, as may attempts to treat COVID-19 with steroids in patients with undetected or uncontrolled diabetes.
There have been upwards of 40,000 cases of mucormycosis in India, which has documented over 30 million cases of COVID-19, although officials have warned that is likely an undercount. About 400,000 of those patients died, but the true toll is likely higher.
“We are seeing a lot of mucormycosis cases post COVID infections since COVID itself is known to decrease the immunity,” Charuta Mandke, who works in the ophthalmology department at Dr. R N Cooper Municipal General Hospital in Mumbai, told Reuters.
One patient, a 39-year-old farmer in Uttar Pradesh, told Reuters that he lost sight in his left eye and had to borrow money to pay for medicine against his own land. Another 65-year-old COVID-19 survivor who lost his sight due to the fungus will allegedly have to resume work after he recovers, his daughter told the outlet.
Last month, Dr. Akshay Nair, a Mumbai-based eye surgeon, told BBC News that he had already treated 11 patients who needed an eye removed due to the fungus. Another surgeon also reported that 11 patients required an eye removed and that six of those patients later died.
“It’s a nightmare inside a pandemic,” Dr. Renuka Bradoo, head of Sion Hospital’s Ear Nose and Throat wing told BBC News.
While cases of mucormycosis have been documented in India prior to coronavirus, it’s never been reported in such vast numbers. The Indian Council of Medical Research has advised doctors to monitor glucose levels post COVID-19 discharge and in diabetics and to “use steroid judiciously – correct timing, correct dose and duration.”