'Fuel to the fire': New illness maims India's Covid patients

As India's Covid-19 crisis rolls on, doctors across the country are reporting another alarming surge in a separate infection known as the "black fungus".

Experts believe recovering or recovered coronavirus patients are susceptible to mucormycosis, a rare yet potentially fatal fungal infection that targets the sinuses, the brain and the lungs.

One recovered Covid-19 patient was forced to have her eye removed due to the fungus, Dr Akshay Nair, a Mumbai-based eye surgeon, told the BBC, while for others the consequences were far more severe.

Of the 24 cases at Mumbai's busy Sion Hospital in the past two months, six patients died.

Over the weekend the government announced several new wards across the nation dedicated to those suffering from the infection.

The fungus is most prevalent in diabetics and those with compromised immune systems, with doctors believing life-saving immune-suppressants are increasing the chances of infection.

"Diabetes lowers the body's immune defences, coronavirus exacerbates it, and then steroids which help fight Covid-19 act like fuel to the fire," Dr Nair said.

A man runs to escape heat emitting from the multiple funeral pyres of COVID-19 victims at a crematorium in the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Thursday, April 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Amit Sharma)
Mass cremations are now commonplace as the nation's death toll continues to surge. Source: AP

The infection is triggered by a fungi which is present in the environment, particularly soil and decaying organic matter.

Dr Vinod Paul of the Indian government's think tank NITI Aayog told the Times of India humid conditions and wet surfaces can amplify the threat and maintaining hygiene among Covid-19 patients was vital.

On Sunday India's health ministry reported 4,092 Covid-19 deaths over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362.

New cases rose by 403,738, just shy of the record and increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.

With an acute shortage of oxygen and beds in many hospitals and with morgues and crematoriums overflowing, experts have said the actual numbers for COVID-19 cases and fatalities could be far higher than reported.

Fiancee of a person who died of COVID-19 breaks down during cremation in Gauhati, India, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Coronavirus cases in India are surging faster than anywhere else in the world. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
The fiancee of a person who died of COVID-19 breaks down during cremation in Gauhati. Source: AP

The nation's healthcare has become so overwhelmed, the government has recruited hundreds of former army medics to support it.

Some 400 medical officers are expected to serve on contract for a maximum of 11 months, the defence ministry said in a press release, adding that other defence doctors had also been contacted for online consultations.

Government display 'extreme lethargy' over crisis

Many Indian states have imposed strict lockdowns over the past month while others have announced restrictions on public movement and shut down cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.

But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown as it did during the first wave last year.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) called for a "complete, well-planned, pre-announced" lockdown instead of sporadic night curfews and restrictions imposed by states for a few days at a time.

Daily deaths have now surpassed the 4,000 mark. Source: Worldometers
Daily deaths have now surpassed the 4,000 mark. Source: Worldometers

"IMA is astonished to see the extreme lethargy and inappropriate actions from the ministry of health in combating the agonising crisis born out of the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic," it said in a statement on Saturday.

Dr Anthony Fauci, a top White House coronavirus adviser, said on Sunday he has advised Indian authorities they need to shut down.

"You’ve got to shut down. I believe several of the Indian states have already done that, but you need to break the chain of transmission. And one of the ways to do that is to shut down," Fauci said on ABC's "This Week" television program.

Modi is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies over the past two months even as COVID-19 cases were surging.

With Reuters

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