Is Black Fungus Curable? Treatment of Mucormycosis, Condition Linked to COVID, Explained

Black fungus, a rare and serious fungal infection that is also known as mucormycosis, is being linked to recovering COVID-19 patients.

More than 30,000 black fungus infections have been reported in India over the past three weeks, and Mexico's first suspected case was reported earlier this month.

Black fungus can cause sight loss, facial swellings, black lesions, blood clots, nerve damage, and death.

However, mucormycosis is curable, though in some cases this may require drastic surgical intervention.

Due to the extremely serious nature of the infection, it's important to begin treatment as early as possible.

This can be administered either intravenously or in the form of pills, using prescription antifungal medicines amphotericin B, posaconazole, or isavuconazole.

It's possible that treatment will begin intravenously with high doses of medication, before switching to pills, according to WebMD.

In addition to this, it's possible that surgery will also be required, in order to remove dead or infected tissue and stop the infection from spreading.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that black fungus infections have an all-cause mortality rate of 54 percent, but so rare is the infection that this is based on just one study of 929 eligible cases, published in 2005.

The study found a mortality rate of 46 percent for people with rhinocerebral (sinus and brain) mucormycosis, 76 percent for people with pulmonary (lung) mucormycosis, and 96 percent for people with disseminated mucormycosis, which occurs when infection spreads to different parts of the body, via the bloodstream.

It isn't yet clear what the outlook is for patients who contract mucormycosis after COVID-19, but NDTV reports that as of June 11 black fungus cases in India had risen to 31,216, with 2,109 people dying from the infection.

People can become infected by coming into contact with a group of molds called mucormycetes, which are most commonly found in soil and in decaying organic matter, such as compost or wood.

The fungal spores are small enough to be inhaled, but they can also enter the body via skin damage, such as a cut, scrape, or burn.

Mucormycosis is not contagious.

Black fungus usually affects people with health problems like cancer and diabetes, or people taking medicines that lower the body's ability to fight germs and sickness.

However, CDC reports that the infection has been found in patients "with severe COVID-19 infection who lacked other classical mucormycosis risk factors."

There are suspicions that some medications that are being used to treat COVID-19, such as high-dose corticosteroids and tocilizumab, may have made patients vulnerable to black fungus.

India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has called for all cases of mucormycosis to be reported to the country's health department.

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A mucormycosis patient undergoes surgery in Jaipur
A surgical team performs an endoscopic surgery to remove a fungal infection from a mucormycosis patient on June 1, 2021 in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. The infection, also known as black fungus, can be life threatening. Rebecca Conway/Getty Images