Black Fungus Kills 8 Covid-Recovered Patients in Maharashtra; Gujarat Too Reports Cases

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At least eight Covid-19 survivors have died due to mucormycosis, a fungal infection, during treatment in Maharashtra, a senior official said on Saturday, adding the total 200 such patients are being treated. According to Dr Tatyarao Lahane, who heads the Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER), cases of mucormycosis are on the rise.

"Eight out of 200 such patients treated so far in various parts of the state have died due to mucormycosis, also known as a black fungus. They survived COVID-19 infection but the fungal infection attacked their weak immune system which proved fatal," Dr Lahane told PTI. Niti Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul on Friday said mucormycosis is caused by a fungus named mucor, which is found on wet surfaces.

He had also said when the same COVID-19 patient is put on oxygen support, which has a humidifier containing water, the chances of him or her getting the fungal infection increase. Dr Lahane said the fungal disease is already known but the cases are increasing because of COVID-19 related complications, wherein the use of steroids elevates the sugar level in blood while some medicines result in suppression of immunity of patients.

"In such a scenario, the black fungus infects the patient easily and spreads. If the fungus reaches the brain of the infected person, it can prove fatal. In one such case, one of the eyes of a patient had to be removed permanently to save his life," he said. Dr Lahane said mucormycosis is a serious fungal infection that is found among people with a low level of immunity as well as among those suffering from chronic diabetes, or those who have gone through a kidney transplant among others.

"Though this fungus is present in the environment, people with suppressed immunity as well as who have received steroids during COVID-19 treatment are more susceptible to it. COVID-19 patients with co-morbidities are also vulnerable and can catch the infection early," he explained.

Dr Lahane said the general symptoms of mucormycosis include headache, fever, pain under the eyes, nasal or sinus congestion, and partial loss of vision among others. Speaking about treatment, he said, "A patient generally needs a particular type of injection to be given for 21 days. The basic cost of this injection comes around Rs 9,000 per day. Treatment expenditure escalates with other facilities, medicines etc".

Dr Hetal Marfatia, professor and head of the ENT at the KEM hospital in Mumbai, said the surge in mucormycosis cases has been seen during the last two weeks. "On average, 2 to 3 such patients are visiting the hospital every day," Dr Marfatia said.

Dr Marfatia said many of these patients are from outside Mumbai who cannot afford the treatment cost as the medicines are expensive. "Their infection becomes severe by the time they visit KEM for treatment," he added.

According to him, mucormycosis cases had been reported during the first COVID-19 wave as well but the number was comparatively small. "Also such cases were not reported so early during the first wave," he added.

He further said the (COVID-19) patients had last year contracted the fungal infection typically a couple of weeks after they were discharged from hospitals. "But now, some patients are contracting this infection while undergoing COVID-19 treatment," he added.

Dr. Marfatia futher said patients coming from other cities are carrying a severe fungal infection. "I was shocked to see a 29-year-old patient from rural Maharashtra losing both his eyes to mucormycosis. People need to understand the severity of COVID-19 as well as such diseases," he said.

Dr Marfatia advised strict control over diet and regular exercise to stay fit. He said unhealthy food habits severely affect the immune system due to which one becomes vulnerable to such diseases.

As of May 7, Maharashtra's COVID-19 tally stood at 49,96,758 while the overall death toll was 74,413. The total count of recoveries stood at 42,65,326, the health department had said.

Meanwhile, cases of mucormycosis are being reported in Gujarat as well and it has left many patients blind, doctors and officials said on Saturday. Mathur Savani, chairman of Surat-based Kiran Super multi-speciality hospital, said mucormycosis was detected in a patient who had recovered from COVID-19 disease around three weeks back.

“This number has gone up to around 50 now while 60 more such patients are awaiting treatment,” Savani told PTI. The hospital, which is managed by a trust, has been receiving several patients diagnosed with Mucormycosis who are being referred from various areas in Surat and other parts of Gujarat, he said.

“As of now, 50 mucormycosis patients are getting treated at Kiran Hospital and 60 others are awaiting (treatment). They all came to our hospital in the last three weeks. All the patients who are suffering from mucormycosis had recovered from COVID-19 recently,” said Savani. According to Savani, seven such patients have lost their eyesight so far.

Considering the growing number of patients with mucormycosis, Surat’s civil hospital has set up a separate facility for their treatment, said in-charge Resident Medical Officer (RMO) Dr Ketan Naik. He said a separate facility with the dedicated medical staff has been created which will soon start treating patients with mucormycosis.

In Ahmedabad, at least five patients with mucormycosis are being operated upon every day at the civil hospital at Asarva, a senior doctor said. “In Ahmedabad, we are receiving 5 to 10 such cases at the civil hospital, especially since the second wave of COVID-19 started. These patients are being examined on priority and operated on as early as possible,” said Dr Devang Gupta, ENT doctor at the city civil hospital.

He said various resources, including manpower, equipment and injection required for the treatment of mucormycosis patients, have been provided by the government. “At least one out of the five such cases is related to eyes. Several of them (patients) are suffering from blindness,” he said.

Niti Aayog Member (health) VK Paul on Friday said mucormycosis is being found in patients with Covid-19 disease. “It is caused by a fungus named mucor, which is found on wet surfaces. It, to a large extent, is happening to people who have diabetes. It is very uncommon in those who are not diabetic. There is no big outbreak and we are monitoring it,” he had said.

According to Dr Paul, mucor attacks people with uncontrolled sugar. He had also said when the same COVID-19 patient is put on oxygen support, which has a humidifier containing water, the chances of him or her getting the fungal infection increase.

As of May 7, Gujarat’s COVID-19 tally stood at 6,58,036 while the overall toll is 8,154. The total count of recoveries stood at 5,03,497.

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