September 8, 2021
Dr Homayoun Sameyeh-Najafabadi, a pharmacologist and representative of the Jewish community in the Iranian parliament, said Wednesday there were at least 500 nationwide cases of mucormycosis, a life-threatening disease, commonly known as the ‘black fungus,’ that results from a fungal infection.
Sameyeh-Najafabadi told state television (IRIB) that a rise in cases was due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the use of corticosteroids in Covid treatment. Officials of hospitals of the medical sciences universities in several provinces including Tehran, Khorasan-e Razavi, Ardabil, Mazandaran, and Esfahan have reported a total 20 – 30 cases among Covid-19 patients since August 25.
Some cases of mucormycosis among Covid patients were reported in June. Dr Mohammad-Reza Salehi, specialist in infectious diseases in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini hospital, said in an IRIB interview August 24 there were ten Covid patients at his hospital with mucormycosis.
The rare disease generally affects diabetics or those with compromised immune systems including patients with cancer, HIV/Aids and Covid. It develops from an infection caused by mucor mold, which is commonly found in soil, plants, manure and decaying fruits and vegetables. In humans it affects the sinuses, the brain and the lungs, and has an overall mortality rate of 50 percent.
Doctors say mucormycosis can be triggered by steroids used in treating critically ill Covid patients. An academic paper published 5 August by Indian specialists said a major chunk of the black fungus’ world-wide distribution was in India where in May a rapid increase in cases was reported among Covid patients. As of March, 41 cases of Covid-associated mucormycosis had been documented globally, with 70 percent in India.
Sameyeh-Najafabadi said Wednesday that the medication had been imported and was available, with more supplies on the way. This followed an official of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr Seyed Heydar Mohammadi, saying August 25 that supplies had run out of Amphotericin B, which is used to treat mucormycosis. In his interview August 24, Salehi had also said there was an urgent need to import anti-fungal drugs.
Dr Saleh Mohebi, an official of Tehran’s Rasoul Akram Hospital, said August 31 that mucormycosis had proved fatal in 30 percent of Covid-19 patients who had developed the disease, while 50 percent had responded to anti-fungal treatment and 20 percent had undergone surgery to remove the affected area, usually eyes. He gave only percentages and not case numbers.
The Delta variant of coronavirus has spread in Iran in the past two months, with daily deaths rising from under 200 in June to an all-time high of 709 on August 24. Health officials have repeatedly warned that the virus challenges the capacity of the health system.
The health ministry Tuesday announced 635 deaths and 27,138 new cases for the previous 24-hour reporting period. Media and local officials in Iran have long said these figures, counting only cases with a positive PCR test result, underplay the pandemic. Iran has now fully vaccinated 11.7 percent of the population, according to John Hopkins university.