Medical staff in PPE attending to a person in the temporary Covid-19 care centre attached to LNJP Hospital, at Shehnai Banquet Hall, on April 23, 2021 in New Delhi, India.

Raj K Raj | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

As India grapples with a deadly second wave of coronavirus, authorities have warned of a rare fungal infection that can maim or even turn fatal if left uncared for.

Several media reports have said that doctors in the country are reporting cases of mucormycosis, informally known as "black fungus," among recovering or recovered Covid-19 patients in states like Maharashtra and Gujarat as well as in Delhi.

What is it?

Mucormycosis is a "serious but rare fungal infection caused by a group of molds called mucormycetes," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It most commonly affects the sinuses or the lungs after inhaling fungal spores from the air, but can also occur on the skin following an injury or in some instances affect the brain, the CDC said.

The infection is more common among people who have underlying health problems or are on medication that lowers their body's ability to fight germs. Researchers examining past murcormyscosis infections in India found that diabetes was the most common underlying disease, occurring in 54% to 76% of cases.

While the infection is treatable, the CDC estimates a mortality rate of around 50%, though it said that varies depending on underlying conditions, type of fungus and body site affected.

But the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said patients who have had prolonged stays in intensive care units or are immunosuppressed due to steroids can also be at risk.

Many severe Covid-19 patients in India are being treated with corticosteroids like dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug that also reduces the immune system's ability to fight infections and other disease to alleviate symptoms, making them more susceptible.

But a government official reportedly said last week that there is "no big outbreak" of the fungal infection in India.

What are the symptoms?

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