Story at a glance
- A group of fungi called mucormycetes can cause the illness mucormycosis in humans when they are inhaled.
- Some symptoms include nasal congestion and black lesions on the nasal bridge.
- Some states in India are reporting hundreds of new cases.
Medical experts working in hospitals in India are getting slammed with COVID-19 patients. The situation has been worsening for several weeks, and a new report also notes a rise in cases of a rare fungal infection that affects the brain.
The infection is called mucormycosis and is caused by fungi from a group called mucormycetes. These molds live in the environment, in the soil and on plants.
Mucormycosis “is very serious, has a high mortality, and you need surgery and lots of drugs to get on top of it once it takes hold,” Peter Collignon, who is on the World Health Organization’s expert committee on antibiotic resistance and infectious diseases, told The Guardian.
The fungi can get into your body through inhalation. “And when your immune system can’t keep them under control they invade the base of your brain where it becomes a real problem, and really very serious," Collignon said.
Treatment may involve drugs and surgery to cut out the infected tissues.
The illness is rare, but exact case numbers are difficult to estimate. In the U.S., there is no national surveillance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A study of data from San Francisco in 1992-93 found 1.7 cases per 1 million people. Some of the symptoms of mucormycosis are nasal blockage or congestion, headache, facial swelling, chest pain and black lesions on the nasal bridge, according to the CDC.
The coronavirus situation in India may have led to an increase in mucormycosis cases. “We give a lot of high-dose steroids now to people with Covid-19 if they end up in intensive care as the steroids help to treat inflammation, but the steroids unfortunately also suppress your immune system,” Collignon said. “We’re trying to decrease your inflammation with the steroids but that actually means your ability to fight normal infections, like fungus, is also compromised.”
There are some states in India reporting cases. Local media in the state of Maharashtra, which includes the city of Mumbai, has had 200 cases, according to The New York Times. In the state of Gujarat, data from state run hospitals suggests that there have been about 300 cases, according to The Guardian.
The India Council of Medical Research and the Union Health Ministry are recommending taking care when handling soil and other materials that may contain fungus, according to The Guardian. They are also encouraging personal hygiene practices and discontinuing immune-suppressing drugs like steroids as soon as possible.
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