Diabetic patients who got severely ill from Covid-19 and have recovered, or are infected with the virus, are at a higher risk of an infection that can lead to blindness and memory loss.
While raising an alarm on the increase in the rare but potentially deadly infection known as black fungus (mucormycosis), experts say that those whose immune systems have been weakened by the virus or who have underlying conditions could be affected.
Several countries, including India, Pakistan, Russia and the United States, have in the last one year witnessed a surge in the infection. India alone accounts for 71 per cent of the total black fungus cases worldwide. In two states in India, the infection has been declared an epidemic.
The details are contained in an April research paper published by the National Centre of Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in the US, titled “When uncontrolled diabetes mellitus and severe Covid-19 converge: The perfect storm for mucormycosis”
The infection is yet to be reported in Kenya.
“We have heard about quite a number of infections that arise from this virus but we are yet to witness the black fungus in our population. We are monitoring in case of any,” Dr Patrick Amoth, the Health acting Director General said.
Last year, a majority of patients who died from Covid-19 in the country had diabetes, hypertension or both as per the data from the Ministry of Health.
Chances of dying or developing complications from COVID-19 if one has both conditions (diabetes and hypertension) are very high unlike if one has only one,” Dr Amoth said.
Susceptible to infection
He explained that Covid-19 patients are susceptible to infection because the virus affects their immune system and the treatment drugs can also suppress immune response.
“Due to these factors, Covid-19 patients face a renewed risk of losing the battle against attacks by any organisms, though we have not seen such cases in Kenya,” he said.
Black fungus is caused by mould found in damp environments like soil or compost and can attack the respiratory tract. It is not contagious and does not spread from person to person.
Black fungus commonly affects the sinuses or lungs after a person inhales fungal spores in the air, and can also affect the skin following a surface injury like a cut or burn.
Covid-19 patients who undergo oxygen therapy in ICUs may have humidifiers in the ward, this can raise their exposure to moisture and make them more prone to fungal infection.
Symptoms can include facial swelling, fever, skin ulcers and black lesions in the mouth.