Man Reportedly Dies From 'Black Fungus' Infection in Mexico

A man from Mexico is said to have died after falling ill with mucormycosis, or "black fungus," in what was reported as the country's first suspected case of the disease in a COVID patient.

The Mexican edition of Spanish newspaper El País reported the news on Tuesday, citing the man's relatives. The paper named him as Gregorio Avendaño Jiménez, 34.

Mucormycosis has risen to prominence in recent weeks as the illness has been reported widely in COVID patients in India.

It is a rare fungal disease caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes. Patients can catch it if they inhale fungal spores from the air, though it can also occur in the skin after some kind of skin injury.

Mucormycosis is more common in people with compromised immune systems, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Avendaño Jiménez died at the La Raza National Medical Center in Mexico City, according to El País, despite surgery to remove an affected eye and tissue from his nose and mouth.

His illness had reportedly started as headaches and a small spot on the left eye.

The first case of the disease was reported in Mexico last week.

On June 3, Hugo López-Gatell, Mexican undersecretary of prevention and health promotion, said in a press briefing at the time, translated from Spanish: "The black fungus or mucormycosis is an aggressive and opportunistic infection in people with severe immunosuppression; it typically affects people with blood cancers during chemotherapy. Fortunately it is rare."

He added COVID-19 "does not necessarily increase the risk of mucormycosis, but the excessive use of steroids for treatment may be the cause that patients with the SARS-CoV-2 virus have this infection."

El hongo negro o mucormicosis es una infección agresiva y oportunista en personas con inmunosupresión grave; típicamente afecta a personas con cánceres sanguíneos durante la quimioterapia. Afortunadamente es poco frecuente. 1/2

— Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez (@HLGatell) June 3, 2021

Various reports have pointed to the prescription of steroids as a potential driving factor behind recent mucormycosis cases, since steroids may help combat COVID-19, but also suppress the body's immune system.

However, according to U.K. newspaper the Telegraph, which visited hospitals in the Indian state of Maharashtra in the last couple of weeks, doctors are concerned the country's new 'Delta' COVID variant—also known as B.1.617—may be behind the cases.

Dr. Shailesh Kothalkar, the leading ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon at the Seven Star Hospital in Nagpur, told the paper: "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."

The CDC describes mucormycosis as "serious but rare" and states that one review of published cases found an overall mortality rate of 54 percent.

The BBC reports there have been about 12,000 cases reported in India.

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Mexico healthcare worker
A health worker prepares a COVID vaccine at the Ecocentro Expositor vaccination center in Queretaro, Mexico, in May 2021. Mucormycosis has been widely reported in COVID patients in India. Cesar Gomez/Jam Media / Getty