A range of states across India have declared the outbreak of a rare black fungus an official epidemic, as the total number of cases has hit more than 12,000.
Yesterday alone, the government of Delhi reported 153 new cases of the mysterious fungal infection Mucormycosis. It is not contagious but its rapid rise in recent weeks has left doctors shocked. Cases have also been reported in neighbouring Pakistan.
Dozens of hospitals across India have seen patients hit by the rare condition, which has a mortality rate of about 50 per cent. So far, 300 people have died as a result of the extremely rare condition, according to news channel France 24 today.
Mucormycosis causes vital organs to rot, include the brain, lungs and sinuses. Some doctors have had to remove infected jaw bones, noses and eyes in order to save patients, namely to prevent the mucor from spreading to the brain.
‘A new challenge’
Yesterday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the outbreak is providing a “new challenge” for the country, which is currently also in the midst of fighting the world’s most severe outbreak of Covid-19.
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Mucormycosis was close to non-existent, with only a few known cases reported every year.
However, since Covid-19 spiralled out of control in India in March, hospitals and clinics started to report multiple cases a day, and that number is climbing fast. Cases have also been reported in neighbouring Pakistan.
Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to mucor mould, which is commonly found in soil, air and even in the nose and mucus of humans. It spreads through the respiratory tract and erodes facial structures.
According to data from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, black fungus has a mortality rate of around 50 per cent. Early diagnosis and treatment significantly improve survival chances.
“It is a new challenge and things are looking bleak,” Ambrish Mithal, the chairman and head of the endocrinology and diabetes department at Max Healthcare, a chain of private hospitals across India, told PA.
He explained that the fungal infection “preys on patients with weakened immune systems” and underlying conditions, particularly diabetes, and irrational usage of steroids.
Uncontrolled blood sugar can further put immunocompromised people at a higher risk of contracting the disease.
“Earlier I used to come across just a few cases every year but the current infection rate is frightening,” said Mithal.
Health experts are worried that over-the-counter medication, including steroids, can increase the prevalence of mucormycosis.
SK Pandey, a medical officer at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Uttar Pradesh state’s Lucknow, warned that unqualified doctors were giving steroids to patients in many rural areas without giving a thought to whether they require it or not.
“This has led to increase in black fungus cases in smaller cities where the patient has not even been hospitalised,” he added.
India’s Health Ministry on Thursday asked states to track the spread of the condition and declare it an epidemic, making it mandatory for all medical facilities to report the cases to a federal surveillance network.