File photo Photograph:( AFP )
Doctors blame the panic use of steroids, which made it easier for the fungal infection to spread
There's no peace from the pandemic even though the second wave is slowly subsiding.
Another challenge has emerged - black fungus.
India has now been forced to declare the infection an epidemic. From reporting just a few cases last month, the situation has now turned serious.
The country must take precautions and prepare to fight it. The Wuhan virus cases may be falling but the black fungus cases have become a new cause of worry.
The disease scientifically known as Mucormycosis is a complication associated with the virus. A few cases were reported in New Delhi last month with no loss of lives.
Since then, the infection has killed at least 219 people. The case count has reached 7,250 with infections reported in at least 13 states and Union Territories. The worst-hit are Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Telangana.
The central government has directed all states to declare black fungus as an epidemic due to the scale of infections.
The health ministry has asked the states to list it under the epidemic diseases act 1897 which basically means that every single confirmed or suspected case will directly have to be reported to the Union Health ministry.
All hospitals - state and private - will have to follow guidelines for screening, diagnosis and management of cases.
However, several hospitals across India have reported a shortage of Amphotericin-b, the medicine which is key to curing the infection.
The centre says the shortage will be resolved soon. So far, six pharma companies were producing the drug. Now the Centre has given permission to five more manufacturers.
It has also placed orders to import 600,000 vials from abroad. The rising cases and shortages have caused alarm but it's important to understand that the fungus doesn't infect everyone.
So far, it is only being reported in some COVID-19 survivors. Doctors blame the panic use of steroids, which made it easier for the fungal infection to spread.
Mucormycosis is caused by a group of moulds called Mucormycetes. These moulds exist freely throughout the environment and people get infected when they come in contact or breathe in these fungal moulds.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), four kinds of people get the disease. Those who used steroids during their COVID-19 treatment and end up with lower immunity and those who had prolonged stays at hospital ICU and are yet to recover.
Also, those with diabetes or a history of kidney and heart failure, and those who are on medication for major health problems that reduce their ability to fight pathogens.
The symptoms include pain under the eyes, one-sided facial swelling, nasal or sinus congestion, black lesions on the nasal bridge, stuffy or bleeding nose, toothache or loosening of teeth and partial loss of vision.
Experts advise the following steps to protect individuals from the infection. The key is to wear a mask at all times, wear shoes, long trousers and preferably gloves if you step out into a park or for gardening and maintain personal hygiene including a thorough scrub bath.
As infections rise, India must focus on precaution and the judicious use of steroids including immediate treatment when the fungus is detected.