At least 90 people who have recovered from Covid-19 have reportedly died of a rare black fungus infection in coronavirus-ravaged India.
Around 850 people are hospitalized with mucormycosis in Maharashtra state, west India, and authorities have warned they will have to treat 5,000 patients over the next few months.
The disease, also known as black fungus, was rare before India’s second wave of coronavirus and only affected those whose immune systems were weakened, including diabetics or people with HIV or AIDS.
Without early treatment, the black fungus has a 50% death rate.
Doctors are now being forced to remove the eyes or jaw infected patients in order to save lives.
Mucormycosis causes blackening or discoloration of the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, difficulty breathing, and coughing up blood.
Doctors believe that using steroids to treat severe Covid-19 could cause the rash of cases as these drugs lower immunity and raise sugar levels.
Health Minister Lav Agarwal said mucormycosis is a new challenge for coronavirus patients on steroid therapy and those with pre-existing diabetes.
In a letter to Sate, he said, “This fungal infection results in prolonged morbidity and mortality in COVID-19 patients.”
It didn’t give the number of mucormycosis cases across the country, but Maharashtra, home of Mumbai and one of the states hardest hit by the second wave of coronavirus infections, has reported 1,500 cases.
Agarwal called on state governments to designate it as a “reportable disease” under the Epidemics Act, which means they must identify and prosecute each case.
On Thursday, the country reported 276,110 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, slightly higher than the day before but well below the high of 400,000 earlier this month.
The total number of cases is 25.77 million, the second highest in the world after the US.
Deaths rose by 3,874 overnight, bringing the total to 287,122. But with hospitals and crematoriums overcrowded and the health system overwhelmed, some experts say infections and deaths could be five to ten times higher.
“We have seen more black fungus cases in the past week than we normally treat in two years,” tweeted Dr. Arvinder Singh Soin, a leading Indian doctor in Delhi.
The surge is attributed to the widespread, long-term prescription of steroids to treat Covid-19 infections by India’s overwhelmed doctors.
While the steroids are proving successful in treating Covid-19 in many patients, they suppress the victim’s immune system and make them more susceptible to black fungus.
Athorities in the northern state of Rajasthan, where at least 100 cases are active, have declared mucormycosis an “epidemic”.