Doctors have sounded the alarm after tens of thousands of cases of the flesh-eating disease mucormycosis hit hospitals that are already overwhelmed by Covid patients.
India declared it an epidemic in May when at least 11,000 patients had developed mucormycosis after recovering from Covid.
Now the figure is estimated at more than 28,000, with hundreds of deaths.
The huge spike in infections has led some experts to believe it is the new virulent Delta strain sweeping the country that is behind it.
Mucormycosis is rare condition that can kill those with weakened immune systems.
It is caused by common moulds found in soils, which when breathed in can attack the lungs and sinuses before spreading to the face, brain and other organs.
It causes blackening over the nose and eyes, blurred or double vision, chest pain and breathing difficulties.
And if not caught early, mortality ranges from 46 per cent to 96 per cent depending on which organs are affected, according to US agency the CDC.
Many survivors need drastic surgery to cut out the aggressive flesh-eating fungus – with around 60 per cent of patients in India needing at least one eye removed as well as parts of their faces.
Initially the explosion in cases was blamed on overuse of steroids to treat Covid.
Steroids lower the immune system and leave patients vulnerable to other infections.
But now many doctors believe it is the Indian Delta variant itself that is causing the disease, reports the Daily Telegraph.
It is believed the virus damages the pancreas and triggers rapid-onset diabetes and soaring blood glucose – which allows the fungus to thrive.
Dr Shailesh Kothalkar, a leading ear, nose, and throat surgeon in Nagpur, said he would normally only see two or three mucormycosis cases a year.
Since March when the second wave hit he has treated over 280 patients and operated on 151.
“This new variant is causing damage to the beta cells in the pancreas, which produce insulin and regulate blood glucose levels,” said Dr Kothalkar.
“We need more investigation into this but we are seeing this concerning new pandemic, around 40 per cent more patients are developing diabetes after having Covid-19 during this second wave.”
Dr Shrinivas Chavan, an ENT surgeon in Mumbai, said: “There was also heavy use of steroids during India’s first Covid-19 wave, but we didn’t see this surge in mucormycosis cases.
“I had seen 45 patients in my entire career and now we have had 66 patients admitted in just one month. Over the last five days, we’ve barely slept, we’ve done 40 surgeries.”
There has also been an alarming rise in cases in neighbouring Nepal, where the Indian variant is dominant.
And studies suggest other variants besides the Indian mutation may also trigger diabetes.
Last week the first cases of deadly black fungus linked to Covid were recorded in Chile and Uruguay.
WHAT IS MUCORMYCOSIS?
Mucormycosis is the name used for a fungal infection caused by a group of moulds called mucormycetes.
These normally harmless moulds live throughout the environment and are common in soils and rotting vegetables.
The spores float in the air and are practically impossible to avoid.
Mucormycosis mainly affects people who have health problems such as diabetes or take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs, such as chemotherapy and steroids.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say symptoms vary depending on where the fungus is growing.
Symptoms of rhinocerebral (sinus and brain) mucormycosis include:
- One-sided facial swelling
- Nasal or sinus congestion
- Black lesions on nasal bridge or upper inside of mouth that quickly become more severe
Symptoms of pulmonary (lung) mucormycosis include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms of gastrointestinal mucormycosis include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
It comes as the Indian variant threatens UK ministers plans to scrap social distancing, but keep face masks and work from home guidance in place after June 21.
The mutation is behind almost three quarters of all cases in the UK and has been found in more than 250 of England’s 300-plus authorities.
But the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout is believed to be responsible for recent low death tolls – despite rising cases of the Indian mutation.