What is 'black fungus' that is hitting India's COVID-19 patients?

In the global fight against the coronavirus, a new threat is emerging in India: black fungus.

The rare fungal disease is spreading among COVID-19 patients across the country.

Black fungus’ official name is mucormycosis.

It can cause blurred or double vision, chest pain, coughing blood, discoloration over the nose, and breathing difficulties.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows it has a mortality rate of 54%.

To put that in perspective, COVID-19 has a mortality rate between 2-3%.

Black fungus is not contagious so it cannot spread from contact between humans or animals.

But it does spread from fungal spores that are present in the air or in the environment, which are almost impossible to avoid.

Experts say that factors behind the spike include unsanitary conditions and an overuse of certain drugs amid the pandemic which suppress the immune system.

The disease also has a close link to diabetes.

Dr. Randeep Guleria is the director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi and explained why COVID-19 is becoming a common precursor in the country.

"... this causes a decrease in their immunity which predisposes them to… fungal infections like, mucormycosis. Also, diabetes is a risk factor and we know that India is the diabetic capital of the world, we have a large number of people who have diabetes...many of them have diabetes where the control is very poor. So, uncontrolled diabetes with COVID-19 can also predispose to development of mucormycosis. The third factor to keep in mind is the use of steroids."

Local media reported at least 7,250 cases had been identified across India as of May 19, mostly in people infected with or recovering from COVID-19.

India's health ministry said it was looking to rope in more companies to produce the antifungal drug used to treat it.

That would lead to a nearly 250% increase in supply by June.

Health systems are already overwhelmed as India struggles with the second-highest tally of COVID-19 cases in the world.

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