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Flesh-eating 'black fungus' killing off patients who survived COVID-19

Doctors in India are sounding the alarm where thousands of cases are being reported.

TAMPA, Fla — You’ve probably heard about the alarming outbreak of COVID -19 cases ravaging India. Now, doctors are reporting patients who survive COVID are dying from something else entirely – a rare fungal infection that can be incredibly difficult to treat.

“This latest surge has been heart wrenching,” said Dr. Kartik Cherabuddi, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Florida.

“COVID by itself is scary. When you have this fungal disease that’s sort of eating away your face and brain, it’s just very shocking and it’s adding to the panic," Dr. Cherabuddi said.

He says mucormycosis, also known as “black fungus,” has a near-50 percent mortality rate and is tragically killing many who were relieved to have beaten COVID-19.

“You see it often start around the nose area or in the mouth. It starts as a small black lesion,” said Dr. Cherabuddi. “From there, the infection can eat through skin, soft tissue or even bone,” he says, as it attacks the brain or other critical organs.

“Once it starts growing that way, it’s very difficult to control,” said Cherabuddi, who added surgical removal of the infected area is usually the last option doctors are left with.

Doctors studying the outbreak in India say steroids used to treat COVID also weaken the immune system, leaving patients more susceptible to the fungus.

Patents with diabetes are also at higher risk.

“High sugars sort of block off your immune cells from moving. It sort of paralyzes them so your own cells can’t fight the virus well; and therefore it takes you longer to recover longer for your body to heal," he said.

“This is a type of fungus that is found absolutely everywhere it’s very pervasive,” said Dr. Aileen Marty with Florida International University in Miami. 

She says while rare here in the U.S., cases do happen and could become a bigger concern should a major hurricane threaten Florida.

“When I was managing the Katrina outbreak that was a big problem was mucormycosis,” recalls Dr. Marty. “It’s really important that healthcare workers be very attuned to this as a real possibility.”

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