Academy of the Canyons

Opinion: Will the Black fungus disease bring another pandemic?

Due to the rise of such an infectious disease, the notable coronavirus has overshadowed news regarding many other health crises around the world. A key notable outbreak that has even aligned with COVID-19, is the Black and White fungi outbreaks in India.

Black fungus, also known as mucormycosis, is a rare fungal disease that has a mortality rate of about 50%. In India, cases of people infected with black fungus have been rising as the country simultaneously battles one of the largest surges of COVID-19. In India, the disease has affected people’s faces, noses, eyes and brains, which eventually cause vision loss.

It can even spread to the lung and if detected late, can cause death. Symptoms include but are not limited to: redness around the eyes, eye pain, headache, coughing, shortness of breath and bloody vomit. Diabetic patients, COVID-19 patients and people who are on steroids are more likely to acquire the black fungus.

Because the fungus mostly affects COVID-19 patients, it is very common to observe cases of pulmonary mucormycosis. The federal government provides different states a different amount of Liposomal Amphotericin-B, an antifungal drug used to treat black fungus, based on the number of cases a specific state has.

Not much is known about white fungus, but in Patna, India, medical experts have observed cases and have concluded that white fungus could be more dangerous than black fungus.

White fungus is caused by fungi moulds called mucormycetes, which are the same cause for black fungus. These specific mucormycetes can be caused by molds present in the environment, improperly sterilized medical equipment, low immunity and lack of personal hygiene.

Those with weak immunity like diabetes, cancer patients and those taking steroids must take extra precautions. The fungus was named after the white-colored sores that occur in patients as they affect the esophagus and cause difficulty in swallowing food.

Patients affected by the white fungus show similar symptoms to patients who have been infected with COVID-19 and with patients who have been infected with black fungus. This includes shared symptoms of cough, chest pain, breathlessness, which can lead to inflammatory symptoms and cause swelling and persistent headaches.

So far, in Patna, patients given anti-fungal medicines ended up recovering. However, even with medicines, a lot of people will still lose their lives to the disease just like most severe respiratory infections.

Dr. Sumit Mrig, the head of the EMT department at Max Smart Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi says that the black fungus outbreak has put “tremendous pressure on the health infrastructure,” which has already been pushed to its limits by COVID-19. To prevent the fungal infection, the West Bengal Health Department has cautioned people from exposing themselves to decaying fruits and vegetables because the disease usually develops through cuts, burns, and skin trauma by contact with fungal spores in the environment.

Experts also recommend that diabetes patients and people in general, take fewer steroids and fewer drugs because they weaken the immune system (this is why COVID patients have a higher chance of acquiring the fungal infections).

As an Asian Indian American, having to watch my brothers and sisters affected by both the black fungus and white fungus seems crazy because I did not find out about the fungi until my aunt had called my dad about it. International news like this hasn’t really reached the United States and even by asking around, my friends didn’t even know that a “black fungus” existed. 

Most of my family is still in India, and the effects of both COVID-19 and the fungi have shifted the way they live. COVID-19 gets all the attention it deserves, however, due to how large scale it is, other health crises do not get the attention they deserve, including the black and white fungi epidemics.

What most people do not realize is that the epidemic occurring with the fungi right now, is actually a direct effect of COVID-19. Due to the pandemic, the healthcare system in India is under strain and overworked staff in packed, disease-infested, hospitals don’t make it any better when fighting lethal fungi.

What does that mean for the rest of the world?

As we move toward a more interdisciplinary and globalized society, we must all help one another because all of us are against pathogens. It sounds cliche, but compassion is really taken for granted in today’s world.

With social media and other technological advances in the 21st century, we can make innovations like no other time period before us. Even though globalization may be the reason COVID-19 spread around quite quickly, we can also use it to our advantage.

We don’t know. The future is bright, and things can only get better from here. Right now, we can even take a small step and start, just by spreading awareness.