The first case possibly of green fungus infection linked to Covid-19 has been reported in Madhya Pradesh in a person who had recovered from the viral infection. The report comes amid the continuing fear of Covid-19 patients being hit by the dreaded black fungus infection, or mucormycosis. Here’s what you need to know about green fungus and how you can guard against the disease.
What Is Green Fungus?
It is an infection caused by Aspergillus, a common type of fungus that is found inside homes and outside in the open. The medical name for this disease is Aspergillosis. According to the US disease watchdog Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “most people breathe in Aspergillus spores every day without getting sick”. Spores are minute single-celled reproductive cells that are produced by everything from bacteria, fungi, algae, and plants.
Why Aspergillus is a health concern for people diagnosed with or recovering from Covid-19 is because very often such people have weakened lungs. Also, people who develop severe symptoms of Covid-19 may have low immunity. According to the CDC, “people with weakened immune systems or lung diseases are at a higher risk of developing health problems due to Aspergillus”, which can cause allergic reactions, lung infections, and infections in other organs.
A green fungus attack can take many forms, including when it causes inflammation in the lungs and allergy symptoms such as coughing and wheezing, or when it triggers inflammation in the sinuses and symptoms of a sinus infection, like stuffiness, headache, etc.
Can It Cause Serious Disease?
Although some allergic green fungus attacks may not cause infection, the CDC notes that it can also cause chronic pulmonary aspergillosis that results in cavities in the lungs and can take 3 months or more to cure.
Further, invasive aspergillosis, in which green fungus causes a serious infection, can affect “people who have weakened immune systems, such as people who have had an organ transplant or a stem cell transplant”. Invasive aspergillosis typically affects the lungs, but can also spread to other parts of the body.
Then there is cutaneous, or skin, aspergillosis. Although it commonly occurs in people with weakened immune systems when green fungus enters the body through a rupture in the skin, there are instances of it occurring after invasive aspergillosis spreads to the skin from somewhere else in the body, such as the lungs.
What Are The Symptoms?
The different types of infections that green fungus may trigger can have different symptoms. For instance, when the green fungus triggers an allergic reaction in the lungs (allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, or ABPA), it produces symptoms similar to asthma like wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and fever in rare cases. When the allergy attacks the sinuses, it can cause stuffiness, runny nose, headache and, in a symptom common with Covid-19, reduced ability to smell.
Chronic pulmonary aspergillosis that affects the lungs can lead to weight loss, coughing, coughing up of blood, fatigue and shortness of breath.
As for invasive aspergillosis, which the CDC said “usually occurs in people who are already sick from other medical conditions”, symptoms can include fever, chest pain, coughing, coughing up of blood, shortness of breath, etc. Further, “other symptoms can develop if the infection spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body”.
Who Is At Risk?
As noted above, green fungus is commonly present in the environment and can be encountered in decaying leaves, compost, plants, trees and grain crops. However, as the US-based Mayo Clinic notes, “everyday exposure to aspergillus is rarely a problem for people with healthy immune systems. When mold spores are inhaled, immune system cells surround and destroy them”.
But the various types of infection that green fungus can cause are commonly seen affecting people who have cystic fibrosis or asthma or lung diseases like tuberculosis.
Chronic pulmonary aspergillosis, as the name suggests, can affect people who have other lung diseases, like tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), etc. People with weakened immune systems — for instance those who’ve had an organ transplant or are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, or taking high doses of corticosteroids (like some Covid-19 patients do) — are at risk of developing invasive aspergillosis.
However, aspergillosis does not spread between people or between people and animals from the lungs.
How Is It Detected?
Doctors can ask for a chest x-ray or a CT scan of your lungs or other parts of your body to check for green fungus. For suspected lung infections involving green fungus, a fluid sample from the respiratory tract may be collected. Tissue biopsy, too, can be done in some cases. For suspected invasive aspergillosis in those with severely weakened immune systems, a blood test is required.
According to the website medindia.net, list of generic names of drugs against green fungus includes, Itraconazole, which is an antifungal agent, and Voriconazole, which is “prescribed for various fungal infections”. There is also Amphotericin B, the antibiotic that is being used to treat black fungus, or mucormycosis, cases.