Rare but deadly ‘black fungus’ adds to India’s Covid-19 struggle

Doctors in India are being told to watch out for an extremely rare but often deadly “black fungus” that can afflict people with severe cases of COVID-19, as the country’s healthcare system continues to buckle under the stress of the pandemic.

The disease, also known as mucormycosis, infects the brain, sinuses and lungs via fungal spores in the air, and is more likely to take root in severe coronavirus patients with underlying health conditions and weakened immune systems, but it’s not directly related to COVID-19.

“Mucormycosis, if uncared for, may turn fatal,” said the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in an advisory on Sunday.

Black fungus can cause blackening or discolouration around the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and bloody coughing. Earlier symptoms include sinus pain, headaches or sinus blockages on one side, swelling, numbness, toothache and loosening teeth.

Indian health officials have not released numbers to detail the scope of the infections, but they say mucormycosis is largely showing up in COVID-19 patients with uncontrolled diabetes, and in patients being treated with steroids such as dexamethasone. Officials in the state of Gujarat say they’ve seen about 300 cases in four cities.

The phenomenon is likely cropping up more in India because of its world-leading coronavirus infection rate, combined with already high levels of uncontrolled diabetes in the population.

It’s yet another threat facing India’s already overtaxed healthcare system, which is dealing with the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak. Oxygen and clean hospital beds are hard to come by for the living, while many communities are running out of ways to dispose of their dead.


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