India has been going through some of the worst moments of the COVID pandemic this past couple of weeks. COVID cases passed 23 million, and the death toll from coronavirus crossed 250,000 this Wednesday.
The deadlier, highly infectious variants are yet to peak according to experts, leaving the country to handle millions of sick people while being short-staffed in hospitals, crematoriums, and mortuaries.
The country has even stopped exporting vaccines in an effort to get more people inoculated and try to stop the virus from spreading.
To make matter worse, a rare life-threatening side effect seems to be striking those who have managed to survive: Mucormycosis, a black fungus that may be being triggered by the use of steroids, a life-saving treatment for severe and critically ill Covid-19 patients.
“You are using steroids to reduce the hyperimmune response, which is there in Covid,” said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, who leads the Public Health Foundation of India, “But you are reducing the resistance to other infections.”
Professor Debora Rodrigues, an environmental scientist from the University of Houston described the disease as a “rare fungal infection caused by a group of molds (type of fungi called mucormycetes)”.
According to Professor Rodrigues, it is uncommon in healthy people but it can affect immune-compromised patients, such as those affected by COVID. “For healthy people, it is not dangerous, but for immune-compromised, it can be life-threatening,” she said.
The infection is particularly severe in people with diabetes.
“Diabetes lowers the body’s immune defenses, coronavirus exacerbates it, and then steroids which help fight Covid-19 act like fuel to the fire,” says Dr. Akshay Nair, a Mumbai-based eye surgeon,
Dr. Nair reported seeing around 40 patients suffering from the fungal infection back in April. A lot of them had recently recovered from COVID. Another 58 cases were reported by Dr. Nair’s colleagues in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Delhi, and Pune.
Hospitals have reported a peak of cases for the infection going from 6 in a year to 24 in the past couple of months.
Symptoms of the disease include nasal congestion and discharge, one-sided facial pain, numbness or swelling, toothache and loosening of teeth, blurred or double vision, redness around eyes, fever, breathing difficulties, and chest pains.