India's Covid deaths pass 300,000 as rare fungal disease strikes fear in patients, doctors

India was only the third country to record 300,000 deaths from Covid-19 on Monday. Fears of a potentially fatal yeast infection afflicting some of those who have battled the virus have increased.

Over 8,800 cases of the so-called black fungus known as mucormycosis have been recorded across India, the country’s Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers Sadananda Gowda said in one Tweet Saturday.

Although Gowda did not share the official number of deaths from mucormycosis, The Associated Press reported that local media found that more than 250 people had died from complications from the disease.

Experts told the AP that they had only seen a handful of mucormycosis cases per year in India prior to the country’s second wave. This has further fueled fears that the fungal infection is having a serious impact on Covid-19 patients.

India recorded over 4,454 Covid-19 deaths on Monday and, according to official figures, was the only third country after the US and Brazil with a total of over 300,000 deaths. Also, 222,315 new cases were reported on Monday, bringing the total to over 26 million cases.

Mucormycosis has occurred in both current and recovering patients with coronavirus, causing blurred vision, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.

The disease spreads through the airways and is particularly harmful to people with weakened immune systems and underlying diseases. As doctors in India note, in coronavirus patients treated with large amounts of steroids.

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SK Pandey, a medical worker from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, told the AP that this was particularly evident in rural areas and smaller towns where unqualified doctors are not properly prescribing steroids.

“This has led to an increase in cases of black fungus in smaller cities where the patient hasn’t even been hospitalized,” he said.

Mucormycosis can be life threatening if it reaches the brain. Therefore, according to the AP, doctors need to surgically remove patients’ eyes to prevent the infection from spreading too far.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told health care workers in the Indian city of Varanasi in an online video conference on Friday that the disease was a new challenge.

A companion sits next to a patient who has recovered from the Covid-19 coronavirus and is now infected with the deadly fungal infection in Jabalpur on Friday.Uma Shankar Mishra / AFP – Getty Images

“We should focus on black fungus precautions and step up efforts to meet the challenge,” he added.

The Indian health system and crematoriums have been overwhelmed by the country’s rampant second wave for weeks due to a lack of oxygen supply, medication and beds in the intensive care unit.

However, there has been some signs of a slowdown in infections, with fewer than 300,000 daily cases recorded per week, compared to a daily number of over 400,000 earlier this month.

Experts still fear that the number is severely undercounted and that the real numbers could be five to ten times higher in the country with a population of over 1.3 billion people.

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