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Massive outbreak of deadly black fungus surges in India with thousands blinded

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, a deadly new outbreak of “black fungus” infections is surging in India.

A few dozen cases of mucormycosis fungal infections were recorded in May, but Indian news channel NDTV reports the number of cases has now risen to 31,000. The fungus has claimed over 2,000 deaths.

The fungus can take hold in the stomach, lungs or bloodstream but has its most devastating effect when it infects the nasal passages and sinuses – from where it can easily affect the eyes and brain.

In addition to the growing death toll, many patients are being blinded. "Previously if I saw one patient a year, I now see about one a week," said Nishant Kumar, an eye specialist at Hinduja hospital in Mumbai.

Manchester University professor David Denning, an expert at the Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections, told Reuters: “There have been cases reported in several other countries – including the UK, U.S., France, Austria, Brazil and Mexico, but the volume is much bigger in India”.

The Indian government has ordered all states to classify mucormycosis as an epidemic.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the fungus is a "new challenge".

"In recent days we have a new challenge of Black Fungus,” Modi said. “It is important to prepare systems to tackle it”.

Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal added that the fungus appears to be affecting people with diabetes particularly badly.

"In recent times a new challenge in the form of a fungal infection namely mucormycosis has emerged,” he said, “and is reported from many states among Covid-19 patients especially those on steroid therapy and deranged sugar control”.

He added that the fungus is worsening the condition of many patients already infected with Covid-19, adding to the death toll.

David Denning said the combination of a major fungal outbreak, a high incidence of diabetes in the population, and an over-reliance on steroid treatment was a "triple whammy” that worsening the outbreak.

India has logged over 30 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 to date, with some 393,000 deaths.

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