As India’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic officially crossed 300,000 on Monday, it faces a related outbreak of cases of the fungal disease mucormycosis, which officials said had a mortality rate of about 50 per cent.
At least nine states have notified the disease – also known as “black fungus” – which has afflicted more than 11,000 people nationwide. The Indian Council of Medical Research has issued an advisory on its diagnosis and treatment.
These states include Gujarat and Rajasthan in western India, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Telangana in the south, Madhya Pradesh in central India, Bihar and Odisha in the east and Uttarakhand in the north.
The fungus, which doctors said affected recovered and recovering Covid-19 patients initially in the nostrils, before spreading to the brain, is also prevalent in eight other states and the federal capital New Delhi, which has registered over 200 such cases.
Surgeons told Indian news channels that mucormycosis is linked to an overuse of steroids administered in treating the virus, and can only be managed surgically by removing an eye or the jaw bone, or in some cases both.
They said diabetic virus patients are particularly vulnerable to it, and the fungus appears to strike around a fortnight after patients have recovered from Covid-19.
India has the world’s second highest number of diabetics, with prime minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat topping this list, as well as of those afflicted with the fungus.
Separately, Indian federal health ministry officials in Delhi said that it had taken less than a month for India to record the most recent 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 after the second virus wave gripped the country, swamping its healthcare system.
Hospitals ran short of ambulances, oxygen, intensive care units and other essential medicines as they struggled to cope with an influx of patients, with thousands turned away due to overcrowding.
Medical experts, however, said the actual number of fatalities in India was much higher as not only were many deaths not officially recorded in rural areas but testing facilities were inadequate.
Some mathematical models undertaken by academic institutions locally and abroad estimate that the virus may already have killed about a million people in India as it continues to engulf the countryside where no medical facilities existed and more fatalities are anticipated.
Even crematoriums in cities such Delhi and Bangalore and other towns across India ran out of space, forcing people to cremate their dead relatives and loved ones in public parks and parking lots.
In northern Uttar Pradesh state, one of the worst infected, the bodies of thousands of virus victims were floated down the river Ganges as there was insufficient wood left to cremate them.
Meanwhile, the countrywide drive to inoculate all Indians above 18 years old with anti-virus vaccines from May 1st following Mr Modi’s much publicised announcement has ground to a virtual halt due to mismanagement in procuring the vaccine.
Officials said just 41.7 million people – 3.1 per cent of India’s population of 1.3 billion – had so far been vaccinated.