India remains at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic and the health crisis has been further complicated by the emergence of a deadly black fungus infection, the Indian Prime Minister has warned. India has surpassed 27million known COVID-19 infections on Wednesday and the total number of recorded fatalities has risen above 311,000.
Health officials are now tackling an outbreak of mucormycosi, also known as black fungus, in thousands of existing and recovered coronavirus patients.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has admitted the fatal fungal infection is providing a “new challenge”.
A black fungus infection is caused by exposure to a mould often found in soil, air and human mucus.
It can cause blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood.
The condition can also compromise the immune system and has a close link to diabetes.
Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mucormycosis has a mortality rate of 54 percent, but experts have warned this could rise if untreated.
More than 9,000 cases were reported across India over the weekend, with almost half found in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Patients with mucormycosis require an anti-fungal intravenous injection which has to be administered every day for up to eight weeks, but the unprecedented spike has resulted in a shortage of medical supplies.
The disease is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from human to human, but can spread from fungal spores present in the air or in the environment, which are almost impossible to avoid.
Dr VP Pandey, head of medicine at the Maharaja Yeshwantrao Hospital in the central Indian city of Indore, has said 200 beds in the 1,110 capacity facility are now caring for black fungus patients.
He told the BBC: “This surge in patients was definitely unexpected. We used to see one or two cases a year previously.”
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Nishant Kumar, an ophthalmologist at Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai, claimed the spike in black fungus infections could be attributed to dirty medical equipment.
He said: “There is a lot of contamination in the pipes used for oxygen, the cylinders that are being used, the humidifiers used.
“If you are immuno-suppressed, and you have been on these pipes and oxygens for a long period of time, then these infections get much more of an opportunity to get in.”