By Sarwar Kashani

Kashmir became the 19th region in India to declare a growing fungal infection an epidemic following the rise in the number of patients battling the life-threatening disease known as mucormycosis.

The Kashmir administration order came after the federal government earlier this month asked regional authorities to declare the disease as an epidemic if cases were found.

“All government and private health facilities will follow the guidelines for screening, diagnosis, management of mucormycosis,” the order said.

It added that the health facilities have to necessarily “report suspected and confirmed cases to the health department.”

The order barred individuals and institutions from using print, electronic, or other media to discuss or report mucormycosis without prior permission from health authorities.

“No person/ institution or organization will spread any information or material for the management of mucormycosis without prior permission.”

A health official in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, said that the information ban was to prevent a state of panic across the region over the disease.

Experts say exposure to mucor mold commonly found in soil, plants, manure, and air causes the infection, with a mortality rate of a little over 50 percent. 

The troubled region last week reported its first and the only death so far due to the fungal infection.

The victim was a 40-year-old recovered Covid-19 patient.

Kashmir’s top pulmonologist Naveed Nazir Shah said that there was no need to panic in the region. 

“It is not a new disease and it is not contagious,” he said, adding that one of the patients was successfully operated upon for mucormycosis in November last year.

He said people with suppressed immune systems, diabetics, and recovered-Covid-19 patients were susceptible to the infection, and they needed to “avoid self medication like steroids and keep blood sugar levels well under control.”

The disease spreads through the respiratory tract and proceeds to maim the facial structure, affect the sinuses, the brain, and the lungs of the patient.

India has so far reported a little less than 5,500 cases of the deadly infection, federal Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Monday.

However, the figure is drastically lower than the 8,800 given by his ministerial colleague over the weekend.

Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers Sadananda Gowda had tweeted Saturday that the total number of mucormycosis patients across the country was 8,848.

The health minister said of the 5,424 cases reported in India, 4,556 patients had a history of Covid-19 infection, and 55 percent were diabetics.

The western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra have reported more than half of the cases, Vardhan said.

The rising number of black fungus infections has added to the health woes of India amid a surge in daily coronavirus cases and fatalities, with overall deaths crossing the 300,000-mark.

Over 100,000 Covid-19 patients died during the last month as India often registered more than 4,000 deaths a day.

The overall Covid-19 caseload in the country now stands at 26.7 million.

The rising number of black fungus infections had triggered a shortage of certain drugs used to treat its patients.

Last week, the federal government allowed five pharma firms, in addition to the existing five manufacturers and an importer, to manufacture the anti-fungal drug Amphotericin-B.