On Saturday morning, Dr Akshay Nair, a Mumbai-based eye surgeon, was waiting to operate on a 25-year-old woman who had recovered from a bout of Covid-19 three weeks ago.

Inside the surgery, an ear, nose and throat specialist was already at work on the patient, a diabetic.

He had inserted a tube in her nose and was removing tissues infected with mucormycosis, a rare but dangerous fungal infection. This aggressive infection affects the nose, eye and sometimes the brain.

After his colleague finished, Dr Nair would carry out a three hour procedure to remove the patient’s eye.

“I will be removing her eye to save her life. That’s how this disease works,” Dr Nair told me.

Even as a deadly second wave of Covid-19 ravages India, doctors are now reporting a rash of cases involving a rare infection – also called the “black fungus” – among recovering and recovered Covid-19 patients.

What is mucormycosis?

Mucormycosis is a very rare infection. It is caused by exposure to mucor mould which is commonly found in soil, plants, manure, and decaying fruits and vegetables. “It is ubiquitous and found in soil and air and even in the nose and mucus of healthy people,” says Dr Nair.

It affects the sinuses, the brain and the lungs and can be life-threatening in diabetic or severely immunocompromised individuals, such as cancer patients or people with HIV/AIDS.

Doctor believe mucormycosis, which has an overall mortality rate of 50%, may be being triggered by the use of steroids, a life-saving treatment for severe and critically ill Covid-19 patients.

Steroids reduce inflammation in the lungs for Covid-19 and appear to help stop some of the damage that can happen when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive to fight off coronavirus. But they also reduce immunity and push up blood sugar levels in both diabetics and non-diabetic Covid-19 patients.

It’s thought that this drop in immunity could be triggering these cases of mucormycosis.

  • BBC NEWS