Physicians in India are documenting an alarming number of cases of mucormycosis, an often-deadly fungal infection, among patients with COVID-19 and those who have recently recovered. Many of these patients had diabetes and were treated with steroids for their coronavirus infection, a combination that might have made them more prone to the mold attacking their tissues, The New York Times reports.
“You are using steroids to reduce the hyperimmune response, which is there in Covid,” K. Srinath Reddy, who heads the Public Health Foundation of India, tells the Times. “But you are reducing the resistance to other infections.”
The fungus, present in the soil and air, infects the respiratory tract, brain, and sinuses, sometimes causing a bloody nose, swelling in the eye, and loss of vision, among other maladies.
Although the disease is not new, doctors are reporting many more cases than they ordinarily see. For instance, Sion Hospital in Mumbai reported 24 cases of mucormycosis in the past two months, compared to six cases in a typical year, according to the BBC.
Akshay Nair, an eye surgeon in Mumbai, tells the BBC he had seen 10 cases over the previous two years. In April 2021, he saw 40. Among his patients, 11 had to have an eye removed. “This year is something different,” he says.
The treatment for mucormycosis involves an intravenous injection of an antifungal medication every day for up to eight weeks, the BBC notes. Rahul Baxi, who treats diabetes patients in Mumbai, adds that carefully treating patients with the right dose and duration of steroids should help reduce the risk of the fungal infection.
V.K. Paul, who heads India’s COVID-19 task force, told the Times last week that health officials are monitoring mucormycosis numbers but that it has not become a big outbreak.