A text message claiming that the black-coloured fungus that accumulates or settles on household items is the deadly black fungus, or mucormycosis, which is claiming the lives of many COVID patients, is going viral on social media.
It further claims that if people don't allow the black fungus to settle on food items, refrigerators etc, then mucormycosis cannot harm them.
However, WebQoof found the viral claim to be misleading. We reached out to internal medicine expert Bela Sharma, who told us that there are many other factors other than external bacteria or fungi that come into play. A person has a higher chance of getting infected with mucormycosis when their immunity decreases.
We also found that the black mold or fungus found in household appliances is not the same black fungus that is claiming lives.
The viral claim in Hindi tells people to open up their refrigerator doors and check for a black substance there. If it is present, it advises them to clean it properly and immediately, telling people that the black substance is black fungus, or mucormycosis.
The text tells people that if they don't pay close attention, black fungus can easily enter their bodies through this food. It goes on to advise people against storing and consuming certain foods and to only use food that is fresh and to use it immediately. In the end, it tells people to keep checking their coolers, air conditioners, and RO water purifiers.
This message was being shared across Facebook and Twitter.
WHAT WE FOUND OUT
To verify the claim being made on social media, we gathered information related to black fungus (mucormycosis) from some reliable platforms.
The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), the country's top research organisation, has issued an advisory regarding mucormycosis spreading during the coronavirus pandemic. According to this, the ability to fight bacteria and viruses present in the environment decreases in people already suffering from diseases, due to which mucormycosis occurs.
According to the American research organisation Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mucormycosis is a fungal infection that primarily affects people being medicated for other health issues, which reduces the body's ability to fight off diseases.
Apart from cancer and diabetic patients, people who have either had skin-related surgery, organ transplant or have a high iron content in the body are at a higher risk of getting infected. According to the CDC, inhalation of the airborne fungal spores affects the lungs and sinuses.
As per information from ICMR and CDC, mucormycosis develops through dirt already present in the environment, but it affects the body only when the body’s immunity has decreased.
Is the Black Substance Accumulating on Food Items Mucormycosis?
The ICMR's advisory for mucormycosis does not specifically mention any risk related to the black substances found in refrigerators and coolers.
However, it advises people to wear masks in dirty and dusty places and to wear gloves, masks and long-sleeved clothing while gardening. It additionally advises people to ensure the cleanliness of oxygen concentrators. Overall, it highlights the importance of avoiding dirt and dust everywhere and not just in refrigerators and coolers.
According to experts, only external bacteria or fungi do not cause mucormycosis. Internal medicine expert Dr Bela Sharma says that there are many other factors apart from external fungi that come into play in a mucormycosis infection. These factors together cause mucormycosis in the body, when its immunity is low.
Is mucormycosis the same black fungus that settles on things around the house? Pulmonologist Dr Vikas Maurya answered this question saying:
“Fungus is naturally present in our environment. Bacteria and fungi are attracted to food items. But there are many additional factors responsible for mucormycosis infection in the body. Like low immunity and high blood sugar. There have also been cases where high doses of steroids or antibiotics have led to mucormycosis. It is harmful to have mold and fungus in our food or around us, but fungus isn’t the only reason for mucormycosis.”Dr Vikas Maurya, Pulmonologist
The information in the viral message is incorrect. The fungus that we find on household items or in food is not mucormycosis. It is true that fungus grows or settles in unclean places, but it is different from mucormycosis, without a doubt.
We did not find any research supporting the claim that cleaning fungus that is found around the house can reduce or remove the threat of mucormycosis.
Why Is Black Fungus Spreading in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Speaking to The Quint about the spread of mucormycosis amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Matthew Varghese said that the indiscriminate consumption of antibiotics has also increased the risk of infection.
Antibiotics destroy the good or natural bacteria present in the human body and allows the fungus to grow. At the same time, due to decreased immunity after COVID-19, the possibility of the fungus growing increases. Apart from this, continued steroid usage also reduces immunity and increases the risk of black fungus.
Mucormycosis cases are not increasing because of the fungus inside fridges, but are increasing due to high coronavirus cases, extended steroid, antibiotic usage, and pre-existing health conditions that lower the body’s ability to fight diseases.
While it is true that people must follow basic hygience and clean their houses to get rid of any settled fungus, but it is incorrect to assume that one is safe from mucormycosis or black fungus by doing so.
It is clear — bacteria and fungi that are naturally present in the environment enter the body and lead to mucormycosis, but there is a difference between the substance found in fridges, coolers, ACs and mucormycosis. Black fungus only affects an individual when their body's immunity decreases.
(The story was first published on Quint Hindi and has been translated and republished with permission. It is a part of The Quint's COVID 19 fact-check project targeting rural women.)