Doctors in Oman have detected a potentially fatal fungal infection called mucormycosis – commonly known as “black fungus” – in the country, according to authorities.
The country’s Health Ministry said on Tuesday that three COVID-19 patients had become infected with the condition, which has spread among some coronavirus patients in hard-hit India.
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Although relatively rare, the infection has raised alarm among authorities that its sudden increase could complicate efforts to combat COVID-19.
It was not immediately clear what condition the three patients, the first such known cases on the Arabian Peninsula, were in.
The announcement came as the sultanate faces a surge in COVID-19 infections that has swamped its hospitals.
Omani health officials warned earlier this week that there was an acute shortage of hospital beds amid the spread of highly transmissible coronavirus variants, a lagging vaccine rollout and relaxed movement restrictions. To date, Oman has recorded more than 238,500 coronavirus cases, including 2,565 deaths, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.
The fungal condition became a growing cause of concern during India’s devastating coronavirus surge. Other countries, including Egypt, have reported scattered cases in recent months as infections spiked.
Black fungus existed in India before the virus wave, but it stoked fears as it took hold in thousands of infected or recently recovered COVID-19 patients.
Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to mucor mold, which is commonly found in soil, air and even in the nose and mucus of humans.
It causes blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing of blood.
Pain and redness around the eyes or nose, fever, headache, coughing, shortness of breath, bloody vomit and altered mental state are some of its other symptoms.
The fungal infection preys on patients with weakened immune systems and underlying conditions, particularly diabetes, as well as overuse of certain over-the-counter coronavirus medications such as steroids. Uncontrolled blood sugar can put immunocompromised people at a higher risk of contracting the disease.