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Cases of mucormycosis or “black fungus,” a rare but serious fungal infection, are climbing in India among some coronavirus patients, per news reports.
Infections have risen to over 30,000 in three weeks, with at least 2,100 deaths, the New York Times reported, compounding the need to protect the country’s population, a large percentage of which remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of a feared third wave this fall.
The infection is caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes which live throughout the environment and typically do not agitate otherwise healthy people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, in those who have health problems, or take medications that lower the body’s ability to fight off germs and sickness, it could infect the sinuses or lungs when inhaled through the air or on injured skin. Diabetes, cancer, organ transplants, stem cell transplants, low white blood cells, long-term corticosteroid use, injection drug use, too much iron, skin injury and premature or low birth weight are all considered to be risk factors.
Doctors in India suspect the country’s overwhelmed hospitals and shortage of medical oxygen left patients vulnerable to the fungal infection. Dr. Bela Prajapati, in charge of treatment for hundreds of mucormycosis patients, told the Times that doctors’ excessive use of steroids to fight inflammation in coronavirus patients, to help them breathe easier, in turn spiked blood sugar levels and left diabetes patients at risk of infection.
Researcher and microbiologist Dr. Arunaloke Chakrabarti noted many doctors didn’t have time to question patients over underlying conditions before turning to the steroids.
“Doctors hardly had any time to do patient management,” Chakrabarti told the newspaper. “They were all looking at how to take care of the respiratory tract.”
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