Published on May 26, 2021

AHMEDABAD/ VADODARA: Rehana Bano Shaikh, 39, a resident of Khanpur in Ahmedabad, survived a severe Covid infection in April which included a 14-daylong hospital stay where she was put on an assistive breathing and steroid therapy. “In the second week of May, my right cheek started swelling. My face muscles became numb. On consulting a local doctor, I was told I may have mucormycosis and was referred to Civil Hospital,” recounts Shaikh.

Shaikh underwent one surgery for removal of fungus from her nose and sinuses and is in the queue for a surgery to remove her right eye. “She has completely lost vision in the right eye while her left eye has 50% vision. We would attempt to save her left eye,” said a senior ophthalmologist.
Shaikh is not alone in the loss of vision in the current mucormycosis storm which has the highest over 2,000 cases in Gujarat.

Dr Sapan Shah, oculoplastic surgeon at KD Hospital, said that he has removed as many as 45 eyes in the past 30 days during the current surge of mucormycosis infection.

“During the Diwali surge, I had performed 18 eye removal surgeries. But this time, there is an unprecedented surge. Of the 45 patients who lost their eye, one was as young as 16 years while there were five patients under 30 years of age,” said Dr Shah.
“If patients detect initial symptoms of black fungus early like one side facial pain, swelling, nasal discharge, nose bleeding or foul smell from mouth, the eye can be saved. But once fungus reaches the orbital apex or there is vision loss, the eye is removed to save life,” said Dr Anuja Desai, head of ophthalmology department at KD Hospital.

In Civil Hospital Ahmedabad alone, some 30 patients have already undergone eye removal surgery while 50-odd patients across the Civil Hospital campus await their turn in the OT.

Dr JP Modi, medical superintendent of Civil Hospital, said that the hospital has 364 mucormycosis patients as on Tuesday evening – one of the highest for one facility across Gujarat. “We have carried out 243 surgeries for the fungal infection so far. While some of the patients are currently under treatment, others are discharged. The attempt is always to save the organs, but if the infection spread is high, there is no option but to remove an eye or jaw to save lives,” he said.

The MediCity campus is carrying out about 15 to 20 daily operations for mucormycosis patients, said officials. At Vadodara’s state-run SSG Hospital, where the number of MM patients has reached 200, operations are being conducted for 20 hours a day. Doctors said that 14-15 patients have lost their one eye.

Eye surgeon Dr Parth Rana who had removed 18 eyes during the current MM outbreak against six removed in Diwali surge said, “Mucormycosis in Covid patients seems to get `superpowers’.

Conventionally, black fungus takes months and even years to spread from nose to eyes to brain but in Covid, factors like highly compromised immune system, use of steroids and preexisting or Covid induced diabetes helps it grow menacingly within days,” says Dr Rana.

Dr Harsh Shah, oculoplastic surgeon who removed 12 eyes in the past month and saved as many eyes, patients and doctors need to be vigilant and pick up early signs. “Once fungus spreads rapidly to the eye, removal becomes essential to prevent it from reaching the brain,” said Dr Shah.

(With inputs from Prashant Rupera, Vadodara)

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