AIIMS), Bhubaneswar, along with his team, is credited to have discovered a new species of fungus, Cunninghamella arunalokei, responsible for mucormycosis in a healthy human being. In an interview with Manish Kumar of
Orissa POST, Dr Hallur speaks on his latest discovery. Excerpts…
Why is your discovery a rare phenomenon?
It could be termed as rare because usually invasive fungal diseases like mucormycosis mainly infect people with low immunity like those patients with uncontrolled diabetes, those who recently underwent organ transplant, and cancer patients taking anti-cancer drugs. But we found a rare case where a healthy human being was infected with Cunninghamella (a variety of fungus). Minute microscopic studies revealed that it was an entirely new species. Moreover, there were only three cases where Cunninghamella was found in healthy persons, and ours was the fourth such case.
What happened to the patient infected with the new fungus?
Usually, mucormycosis kills persons with low immunity within a few days if treatment is not provided on time. This patient was a healthy 26-year-old man with mucormycosis since 2015. Due to the infection, his facial features and sinuses had got affected. He was operated on multiple times and advised to take antifungal drugs. He had reportedly stopped taking the drugs midway and died ultimately this year.
Many people often describe mucormycosis as black fungus. There were also talks of white fungus, yellow fungus. Does medical science agree with this classification?
This is not acceptable to the scientific community and medical science. It was used by the media just for the sake of simplification which is far from reality. Usage of such terms leads to unnecessary confusion as another group of fungi unrelated to mucormycosis was called black fungus before the Covid-19 pandemic. Mucormycosis should be called by its name and not by any misleading terms.
How many mucormycosis cases were reported prior to the Covid-19 pandemic?
The number was very less. At AIIMS-Bhubaneswar, we had seen only five such cases before the Covid-19 pandemic. But we have seen around 70 mucormycosis cases during the second wave of the pandemic since May this year. One prime reason for the low detection of such cases earlier was the lack of awareness of the disease even among the medical fraternity.
What are the survival chances of mucormycosis patients?
Mucormycosis is a medical emergency. It spreads very fast within hours and lack of timely treatment increases the chances of fatality manifold. Studies have claimed that the survival chances are around 40 to 60 per cent if the patient is provided with the best medical attention and the disease is confined to sinuses. If the infection goes into the brain, the chances of death are 80 per cent even with the best medical attention.
What are the major challenges in India on fungal research?
Globally, there are very few researchers who work on fungal infection whereas the health issues arising from this are quite high in numbers. There are now an increasing number of recurrent ringworm infections among Indians, drug resistance among few species of fungi and many other cases that need more research and attention. Due to a lack of awareness among policymakers, there is also less funding in areas of fungal infections, leading to a vicious cycle of neglect with regard to fungal diseases.