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Doctors in India have issued an alert about a deadly fungal infection in COVID-19 patients

On May 3, 2021, a health worker in a personal protective equipment (PPE) suit attends to a Covid-19 coronavirus patient inside a Covid-19 ward at the SRN hospital in Allahabad. (Photo courtesy of SANJAY KANOJIA / AFP)

A increasing number of current and recovered Covid-19 patients in India are contracting a deadly and unusual fungal infection, doctors told AFP Monday, as the vast country battles a major virus outbreak.

On Monday, the world’s second-most populated country announced nearly 370,000 coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of cases to just under 22.7 million, and more than 3,700 new deaths.

According to experts, the real number of cases and deaths may be much higher.

Mucormycosis, also known as “black fungus” by doctors in India, is usually most aggressive in patients whose immune systems have been compromised by other infections.

Medical experts said there had been an increase in cases in India in recent weeks, and the health ministry issued an advisory on how to handle the infection on Sunday.

“The cases of mucormycosis infection in Covid-19 patients post-recovery are nearly four to five times higher than those registered before the pandemic,” said Atul Patel, an infectious diseases specialist based in Ahmedabad and a member of the state’s Covid-19 taskforce.

Up to 300 cases have been found in the western state of Maharashtra, which is home to India’s financial hub Mumbai, according to Khusrav Bajan, a consultant at Mumbai’s P.D. Hinduja National Hospital and a member of the state’s Covid-19 taskforce.

According to data from state-run hospitals, 300 cases have been registered in four cities in Gujarat, including the state’s biggest, Ahmedabad.

In response to an increase in cases, the western state directed government hospitals to set up separate treatment wards for patients infected with “black fungus.”

“Mucormycosis, if left untreated, can be fatal,” said the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), the scientific body in charge of the government’s response, in a treatment chart shared on Twitter.

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Those with uncontrolled diabetes, those who used steroids during their virus care, and those who had extended stays in hospital ICUs are among the 19 patients who are more likely to contract the fungal infection, according to the ICMR.

The treatment consists of surgically extracting all dead and contaminated tissue and administering anti-fungal therapy.

However, Yogesh Dabholkar, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Mumbai’s DY Patil Hospital, told AFP that the drugs used to treat fungus infections were prohibitively expensive.

Due to the sudden spike, one of the treatment drugs was also running low in government hospitals, he said.

“The mortality rate is extremely high… Even the few who survive need comprehensive and aggressive surgery,” Bajan explained.

“This is a rapidly spreading virus. It will develop in two weeks… Coming out of a virus and into a fungal infection is a Catch-22 situation. It’s terrible.”

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