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COVID-19: What Is Black Fungus? And Should You Be Concerned?

Dr Vikas Maurya Director and Head of Department, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, answers questions about Black Fungus symptoms and treatment.

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Doctors in Delhi and Gujarat have been examining patients who exhibit the symptoms of Mucormycosis, a rare fungal infection triggered by COVID-19. Also known as Black Fungus, it is commonly seen in patients who have recovered from COVID-19 but have comorbidities such as diabetes, kidney or heart failure or even cancer.

Dr Vikas Maurya, Director and Head of Department of Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh speaks to The Better India about this rare infection.

Black Fungus
Dr Vikas Maurya

“Patients whose immune systems are compromised are at a higher risk. This could include diabetes, patients on steroids, those who have cancer and transplant patients. This infection usually impacts the sinus, brain and lungs,” says Dr Maurya.

What is Black Fungus?

Black Fungus is a serious but rare fungal infection caused by a group of molds that live in the environment called mucormycetes. Mucormycosis mainly affects people who have health problems or take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness. The disease can be fatal.

However, addressing a press conference, Niti Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said, “The fungal infection called mucormycosis is being found in patients of COVID-19 disease. It is caused by a fungus named mucor, which is found on wet surfaces. It largely affects people with diabetes. It is very uncommon in those who are not diabetic. There is no big outbreak and we are monitoring it.”

According to the Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), Black Fungus cases have an overall all-cause mortality rate of 54 per cent. This rate varied depending on the underlying patient condition, type of fungus and the body site affected.

Symptoms that patients should watch out for include:

  • Face numbness
  • Nose obstructions on one side
  • Swelling in the eyes or pain
  • For pulmonary (lung) mucormycosis the symptoms may include fever, cough, chest pain and shortness of breath.

Do note: This fungal infection cannot transmit between people and animals. Those who contract this infection do so by coming in contact with the fungal spores in the environment.

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According to this report, if inhaled, the spores can infect the lungs or sinus. If the fungus enters the skin through a cut, scrape, burn, or other types of skin trauma, mucormycosis can also develop on the skin. The infection can subsequently spread to the bloodstream and reach organs like the brain, heart and spleen as well.

Treatment

“This infection can be treated via intravenous (IV) medication or through a surgery. The mortality rate of this infection is extremely high, almost between 30 per cent to 70 per cent,” adds Dr Maurya.

Speaking about the treatment of COVID-19 patients, Dr Maurya adds, “The oxygen support, which has a humidifier containing water, increases the chances of a patient being treated for COVID-19 getting the fungal infection. At the hospital [Fortis] we have been very conscious of this humidifier and ensure that there is no leak. It is also important to maintain utmost patient hygiene to ensure that they do not contract the black fungal infection.”

“As treating physicians, it is important to be aware of such infections. While this is one that is being talked about, there are many other infections that a COVID-19 patient can contract during or after recovering from the disease. The reason why this infection is so dangerous is because of the parts it impacts – brain and sinus. This is the reason why it is being discussed at such length,” says Dr Maurya.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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