New Delhi: As India struggles with a deadly second wave of COVID-19, cases of a rare fungal infection called “mucormycosis” are being reported across the country, adding to the worries. Mucormycosis, also known as black fungus, is a fungal infection, recently being found in COVID-19 patients with compromised immunity. The disease results in disfiguration and in some cases, it is proving to be fatal. The life-threatening disease has infected many COVID-19 patients including those who have recovered.
Banega Swasth India team speaks to Dr Rommel Tickoo, Director, Internal Medicine, Max Healthcare to answer frequently asked questions about the Black Fungus or Mucormycosis disease that is infecting COVID-19 patients.
What Is Black Fungus And Why Are We Seeing More Cases?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: Mucormycosis is basically a fungal disease. It doesn’t affect common people, it only infect people who are immunocompromised, which means if their immunity is low. Talking about the increase in black fungus cases in COVID scenario – it is because to treat the COVID patients we are using steroids which is causing an increase in sugar levels of the patient, and people who are diabetic are anyways at higher risk from this infection. We are also seeing more cases of this in transplanted patients, who have their kidney, lungs transplanted or who are suffering from cancer, HIV.
In the first wave of COVID-19 also, we had seen some cases of black fungus, it is now become more because a lot many people are infected with the virus and unfortunately usage of steroids has also gone up, as a result the risk have increased.
How Does Black Fungus Infect People? What Are The Symptoms To Look Out For?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: Black fungus disease has four varieties, one is rinocerebral that affects your face, it is the most common one. It enters in the body through sinuses and can extend in your eye and even brain. Second variety is pulmonary which has your lung involved. Third variety is gastrointestinal mucor and it is very rare one. Lastly, one is which affects your skin.
Overall, if we talk the mortality from black fungus is 50 per cent, which means people who have this disease are at high risk of death.
The common symptoms which we are seeing in COVID patients are eye pain, headache, jaw pain, toothache, double vision, eyeballs coming out and discolouration of mouth. I suggest, if one is a COVID-19 patient and has some immunocompromised disease, they should look out for these symptoms after 2 to 4 weeks of their COVID-19 recovery.
How Is Black Fungus Diagnosed?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: The diagnosis of the disease is simple, it can be seen through endoscopy through telescope and the confirmation can be done by stain, culture or biopsy. Imaging, CT Scans are very important for diagnostic, in some cases even MRI, as it can tell you the extent of the disease in the patient.
What Is The Treatment Of Black Fungus?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: It is a surgical procedure followed by anti-fungal treatment. However, surgery is very disfiguring because face is involved and whatever tissues are there, one has to remove it as it is a rapidly invasive infection. Sometimes we also have to remove the eye in patient if it is extended that much. Early diagnosis of the infection is the key to prevention in this disease. However, the treatment of the disease is long and can be an expensive affair.
What Is White Fungus?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: White fungus is also seen more in immunocompromised patients and people who take steroids for longer time in general for some or the other disease. Its mortality is not that high, and the treatment is simple. Only in few ICU patients, who have long stays in the hospital, the fungal infection becomes critical as it comes in the blood.
Myth or Fact – Black Fungus Found On Onion Can Also Cause This Disease?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: It is a myth. What we see on food is also of mucor variety but it doesn’t infect people commonly. It is also not contagious, meaning it doesn’t spread from one person to another. It is not like if we have eaten some bad food with fungus on it or if we just smell it, it can infect you with Black Fungus disease.
Excessive Use Of Zinc Can Cause Black Fungus Disease – Myth or Fact?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: Literature says the disease feeds on iron and zinc, so for long time these supplements should not be taken and as it is excess of anything is bad. Even vitamins should be taken for brief time, not for months or years. Having said that, it doesn’t mean if you are taking you will get this disease. To get infected with black fungus, there are a lot of other factors as well.
Can A Non-COVID Patient Contract Black Fungus?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: Of course, they can, but we should know that this disease is very rare. We have seen people who are immunocompromised, who are on steroids for longer duration or are diabetic and has uncontrolled sugar levels get the infection. All these factors combined makes them at higher risk. It is not that the combination of all this in every patient will make them more prone to the fungal infection. It is a rare one.
Dirty Masks And Black Fungus – What Is The Link?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: No they cannot, there is no data. Masks are anyways unhygienic, if you keep on wearing same one and don’t wash it. We recommend daily wash of cotton masks for maintaining good personal hygiene.
What Are The Recovery Chances Of A Person From Black Fungus Disease?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: If it is diagnosed at an early stage, people can recover from it. The problem comes when we have different variety of black fungus, one which infects your lungs and other body parts and not just face, as one tends to not see it.
How Should One Protect Themselves From Getting Infected With Black Fungus?
Dr Rommel Tickoo: Prevent yourself from getting COVID, then you automatically prevent yourself from this disease. Get yourself vaccinated and mask up properly. Recent study shows that only 10 to 15 per cent of people in India are wearing a mask properly. Masking and vaccinations are by far the best thing you can do to prevent yourself from this disease.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.