Amidst the terror of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a new infection that has emerged to be an epidemic in parts of India. The Black Fungus, scientifically known as Mucormycosis, is an aggressive, severe and rare fungal infection that is affecting a number of pre and post COVID-19 patients. The majority of the cases have been the infection of patients that are recovering or have recovered from COVID-19. It has piled onto the number of strains that the country is facing as we had only just begun to understand a means to cope with the present pandemic.
What is the Black Fungus?
Commonly referred to as the Black Fungus, Mucormycosis is a rare fungal disease that comes from a mold that grows on decaying and rotting organic matter. Mucormycetes is the fungal mold that causes the infection and when a person is exposed to this, it affects the sinus and the eye region. The infection mainly affects those whose immune system is already weak or are under medication. The infection spreads when the body is not strong enough to fight the illness on its own.
How does it enter the body and infect
Mucormycosis is an air borne fungal infection that is naturally present in the air, water and even in food. It can enter the body through fungal spores in the air or more uncommonly, through open wounds and cuts in the body. When inhaled, it infects the sinus regions and causes eye swelling, displacement and even loss of sight. People also experience weakened muscles and paralysis. The fungus can also infect the lungs and cause difficulties in breathing, coughing of blood and chest pain. The fungus is rapidly progressive and it infects the lungs at a speedy rate. If the fungus happens to enter the body through open wounds, it can spread on the skin and cause painful inflammations on the skin and the underlying tissues. Sometimes, the ulcers formed on the body can form into blisters and lead to tissue loss. Under rare circumstances, the fungus infects the intestines, chambers of the heart or the kidneys. The infection greatly depends on the organ that is infected.
Link between the Black Fungus and COVID-19
The infection of the Black Fungus spreads in those people whose immune system is compromised and is not strong enough to fight back the infection. Medications like steroids and some antibiotics, that are administered to COVID-19, are immunosuppressants. This makes them more susceptible to the infection spreading. Hence, there is a rise in the Black Fungus cases among COVID-19 patients and recovered patients. Overuse of steroids and such immunosuppressants as well as the lack of hygiene is what fosters the infection.
Some respiratory-related symptoms:
- Nasal or sinus congestion
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Some skin-related symptoms:
- Redness and painful swellings
- Blackened skin tissues
- Ulcers and blisters on the skin
These are some of the more commonly noticed symptoms. Other symptoms are the coughing of blood, toothache, bloody vomit, loosening of teeth, blurry vision and fatigue.
Precautions and cure
The Black Fungus is not contagious and cannot be passed on from one person to another. In saying this, it is still absolutely necessary to stay precautious as the mold is naturally present in the air. Despite it being harmless to those with a good immune system, it could be fatal to those people whose bodies cannot fight the infection due to compromised health and pre-existing diseases. When in the hospital, it is imperative to practice good hygiene to avoid any possible contact with the mold. Regular sterilisation of the oxygen supplying apparatus and judicious administration of steroids is essential. The use of steroids is necessary during the treatment of COVID-19 patients. However, excessive use of the drug should be avoided due to its immune-suppressing properties. In addition to maintaining good hygiene with external apparatuses and instruments, it is important to have good personal hygiene. Taking good care of your skin and indulging in scrub baths can help be rid of any lingering dead skin and dirt which the fungus can pry on. Cover up while out in dusty and mold-prone areas like construction sites and gardens. Since mucormycetes grow in the soil where there is organic matter, it is best to avoid contact with the soil as much as possible. Wear long sleeves, pants and gloves when working outside and if possible, avoid working in the garden if you have any open wounds and prior health difficulties.
The Black Fungus is a rare and serious fungal disease and cannot be treated at home. The infection must be treated with prescribed doses of antifungal medicines. If the disease is recognised in time, surgery is not necessary. However, if the infection is not diagnosed in time, surgery is necessary to remove the infected to dead tissue cells since the treatment is only effective after these cells have been removed.
Pre and post COVID-19 infections
Although the Black Fungus cases have primarily been on COVID-19 and recovering patients, anyone with a weak immune system can be affected by the fungus. People who have not been infected with COVID-19 or who have successfully recovered from COVID-19 can also be infected. The susceptibility lies in a weak immune system along with pre-existing health constraints. It is advised that people with high blood pressure should stay cautious and keep themselves safe from any possible exposure to the fungus. The Black Fungus is also a threat to those with uncontrolled diabetes (the blood sugar level reaching 700-800, a condition medically termed as diabetic ketoacidosis).