What Is Black Fungus? COVID Patients in India Currently Suffering From Deadly Infections

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

May 10 2021, Published 2:07 p.m. ET

India Black Fungus
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The COVID crisis in India has gone from bad to worse — due to rising case numbers, the South Asian country has been struggling to get its hands on enough supplies and hospital space to treat incoming patients. And now, many patients are suffering from an infection called black fungus (aka mucormycosis), which can be potentially deadly to those with immune system deficiencies. But what is black fungus, what are its origins, and how can it be treated?

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"There have been cases reported in several other countries - including the UK, U.S., France, Austria, Brazil and Mexico, but the volume is much bigger in India," said David Denning who teaches at Britain's Manchester University, according to Reuters. "And one of the reasons is lots and lots of diabetes, and lots of poorly controlled diabetes."

India COVID Black Fungus
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Many COVID patients in India are contracting black fungus infections.

COVID patients in India — many of whom are immunocompromised — are suffering from a life-threatening fungal infection called black fungus or mucormycosis, according to Times of India. Cases of the infection have skyrocketed over the last few weeks, predominantly affecting those on immuno-suppressing medications, as well as patients with diabetes, cancer, or HIV/AIDS who can't fight off pathogens of the like, which already exist within the environment.

Sion Hospital in Mumbai has reported a total of 24 black fungus cases over the past two months, with an approximate 50 percent mortality rate, according to The BBC. The disease generally affects the nose, eyes, and brain, and many patients — especially those who address the infection late — have to get an eye removed, to prevent it from spreading to the brain. But what are the origins of this dangerous and unforeseen pathogen? 

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Black Fungus
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What is black fungus, and where does it come from?

Although case numbers for black fungus have been particularly prevalent in India as of late, it's considered to be a rare infection, according to Reuters. Mucor mould, which causes the infection, is often detected on wet surfaces. It's been found in the soil, air, in certain types of plants, manure, decaying produce, and even in the mucous of perfectly healthy people. 

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The infection takes a toll on the sinuses, brain, and lungs, giving symptoms such as a stuffy, bloody nose, eye swelling, blurry or loss of vision, and blackened skin around the nose. Doctors say the issue is affecting India in particular — not only because of immune system problems that stem from having or treating COVID-19 — but also because of the many cases of diabetes nationwide.

"The fungal infection called mucormycosis is being found in patients of COVID-19 disease," said Dr. Vinod Paul, a member of NNITI Aayog, as per Live Mint. "It is caused by a fungus named mucor, which is found on wet surfaces. It, to a large extent, is happening to people who have diabetes. It is very uncommon in those who are not diabetic. There is no big outbreak and we are monitoring it".

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Black Fungus Origins
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If you have the means to help patients in India, make a donation that will go toward supplies, oxygen tanks, and more — those affected by COVID-19 and black fungus are currently in our thoughts.

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