[COVIDWatch]: Is there a new ‘black fungus’ virus mutant that we should be worried about?

By May 31, 2021 COVID-19, Health

We came across this post on Facebook:

The author of post shares several images of individuals with black patches on various parts of their skin.

Along with the photos the author writes that this is “India’s new virus mutant” and expresses his hopes that “they didn’t bring this into our Nation too”. Given the context (and also the Facebook group that it was shared in), it can be deduced that “they” refers to Indian nationals who have travelled to Singapore.

More about the infection dubbed the ‘black fungus’

One of the earliest reports of the infection dubbed the ‘black fungus’ affecting individuals in India was published on 9 May 2021 on BBC. In the report, we read that doctors in India have been reporting a rise in cases involving a rare infection called mucormycosis (aka ‘black fungus’) among recovering and recovered COVID-19 patients. In a more recent article on the condition by Scientific American, we read that there have been almost 12,000 cases of the infection in India in recent months.

Below is a quick explainer video of mucormycosis on The Straits Times’ Youtube channel:

Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to a group of moulds called mucormycetes. These fungi are commonly found in soil, plants, manure, and decaying fruits and vegetables. It affects the sinuses, the brain and the lungs.

According to the Indian Health Ministry, it “begins to manifest as skin infection in the air pockets located behind our forehead, nose, cheekbones, and in between the eyes and teeth” and then “eyes, lungs and can even spread to the brain”. It then leads to blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing of blood. Mucormycosis has a mortality rate of 54%.

According to the CDC, people get mucormycosis by coming in contact with the fungal spores in the environment. For example, the lung or sinus forms of the infection can occur after someone breathes in spores. Mucormycosis can also develop on the skin after the fungus enters the skin through a cut, scrape, burn, or other type of skin trauma.

Doctors and experts believe that the condition may be triggered by unsanitary conditions and also the use of high doses of corticosteroids, used as a life-saving treatment for severe and critically ill COVID-19 patients. These steroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that damp down the immune system’s overreaction to infection, but also make a patient “more vulnerable to attack by whatever bacteria or fungi are already in their body or hanging around their environment”.

However, mucormycosis is not contagious and does not spread from person to person.

Therefore, the insinuation that Indian nationals coming into Singapore might be infected with mucormycosis/’black fungus’ and that this is cause for concern for Singaporeans is wrong. Given that mucormycosis is a rare fungal infection that has been in existence way before COVID-19, the claim that it is a “new virus mutant” is also categorically false.

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