Alarm over rapid rise of killer fungal infection

By: Dikhant Boora

Chennai

Heena Patel (38) is in shock. The doctors recently removed almost half of her face, including the right eye, in a surgery to save her life. Heena has seen many oral cancer patients undergo such surgeries but all she had was a fungal infection! “Heena is not alone, the deadly Mucormycosis fungal infection is taking several victims into its fold, especially the diabetic and people with low immunity. Given the fungus’s rapid rise, a year-long national study , spanning 17 centres across India, has been initiated. Investigation centres include AIIMS, Delhi; CMC Vellore, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai; Apollo Hospital in Chennai among others,” says a city-based infectious diseases specialist Dr Atul Patel who is the principal investigator of the study. “Uncontrolled diabetes pre-disposed her to the life threatening fungal infection. She complained of severe facial pain, headache, visual disturbances and vomiting. MRI scan revealed sinusitis extending to the eye. Biopsy revealed she had Mucormycosis fungal infection,” says Dr Patel. Experts say that killer fungal infections like Mucormycosis, which has a mortality rate of up to 50%, are growing at an alarming rate. The fungus, which is found in the dirt as well as the air we breathe, is reported to grow in sinus cavities, skin, lungs and even kidneys. In local study of 27 patients with Mucormycosis infection, which was presented in the US, 50% patients with fungus had uncontrolled diabetes.Shockingly , 40% of these patients were not aware they were diabetic till they fell severely ill because of fungus. Over 22% patients acquired the infection following a road traffic accident wherein dust contamination of wound led to a deadly fungal infection. Most diabetics have fungal spread from the sinuses into the eyes to the brain. Ramesh Desai (48) lost his leg following a road accident.While he had got only lacerations during the accident, the fungal infection he contracted spread so rapidly , he lost his right leg! “Mucormycosis was also diagnosed to be the cause of kidney failure of a person.The man was suffering for months. Since MRI showed that his kidney was infected and not functioning at all, it was removed and found to be completely damaged by fungal infection,” says Dr Patel, who added that Mucormycosis in kidney is found only in India.

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