Drug-resistant fungal infections pose threat to India patients

In May, a middle-aged-man suffering from Covid-19 was admitted in an intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata.

As his condition deteriorated, the patient was put on a ventilator. He was administered steroids, a life-saving treatment for severe and critically ill Covid-19 patients. But experts say the drug also reduces immunity and pushes up blood sugar levels in patients.

After a prolonged stay in the ICU, the patient had recovered and was ready to go home when doctors found he was infected with a deadly, drug-resistant fungus.

Candida auris (C. auris), discovered a little over a decade ago, is one of the world's most feared hospital microbes. This bloodstream infection is the most frequently detected germ in critical-care units around the world and has a mortality rate of around 70%.

"We are seeing an increased number of patients with the infection during the second wave of Covid-19. There are a lot of sick people in the ICUs and many of them are on high steroid doses. That could be the reason," Dr Om Srivastava, a Mumbai-based infectious diseases specialist, said.

What are the fungal infections on the rise?

As the second wave washes over India and severely ill patients clog the ICUs, doctors are seeing an uptick in a host of dangerous fungal infections.

First, there was an outbreak of mucormycosis or the black-fungus, a rare but dangerous infection, which affects the nose, eye and sometimes the brain. Some 12,000 cases and more than 200 deaths from the disease have been already recorded.