Amid COVID-19 cases, Bihar faces black fungus challenge

Controversy in Bihar as opposition politicians claim state’s declining cases results of antigen tests, not RT-PCR

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Monday 17 May 2021
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Patna. Photo: Sanjuvarmasingh via Wikipedia
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Patna. Photo: Sanjuvarmasingh via Wikipedia
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Patna. Photo: Sanjuvarmasingh via Wikipedia

Doctors and health officials in Bihar were worried about rising cases of mucormycosis or black fungus being reported in the state, even as novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are beginning to decline.

Black fungus cases were detected in nearly 40 COVID-19 patients who had recovered across Bihar in the last few days, the officials said.

Those diagnosed with black fungus were being treated in hospitals such as All India Institute of Medical Sciences Patna, Patna Medical College and Hospital and Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Science.

“Six of the 40 patients diagnosed with black fungus were successfully diagnosed and are doing well. Others are also being closely monitored,” officials said.

Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey said May 17, 2021 the government had supplied Ambisome (Liposomal amphotericin B) injections to all government-run medical colleges and hospitals in the state, after reports of black fungus cases surfaced. The injections will also be supplied to private hospitals, Pandey added.

Antigen vs RT-PCR

Meanwhile, a controversy has erupted in the state regarding the COVID-19 infection figures put out by the government.

  • Some 120,271 samples were tested in Bihar May 16, of which 6,894 came out positive, according to the figures put out by the state health department. This figure had been 6,253 cases April 16, when the number of samples tested were much below 100,000.
  • Bihar tested 110,172 samples March 15, of which 7,336 came out positive.
  • On May 14, the state tested 108,316 samples, of which 7,494 came out positive. 
  • On May 13, the state tested 97,664 samples, of which 7,752 were positive.
  • On May 12, 111,740 samples were tested, of which 9,863 were positive.

However, Opposition leaders alleged the government had been increasing the testing rate by using rapid antigen tests instead of RT-PCR ones.

Health department officials refused to give a break-down of the testing methods being used. The website of the department also does not give such figures.

An RT-PCR test is usually considered a more accurate method to detect COVID-19. Health experts have repeatedly pointed out in several studies that rapid antigen tests may give false negatives.

RT-PCR facilities were extremely limited in district headquarters and non-functional in several parts of the state, department officials said.

They, however, continued to insist that the numbers being reported were accurate.

Manoj Kumar, senior health official, said:

It is not only COVID-19 cases that have decreased. Active positive cases have also declined. As on May 16, there were 75,089 such cases, nearly 40,000 down from 115,000 last month. This appears to be the result of the lockdown in the state that was imposed in the first week of May.

Pandey, in his latest tweet May 17, said the state’s recovery rate had increased to 87.89 per cent from 77 per cent last month. The positivity rate had declined to 5.7 per cent from 14 per cent, earlier this month.

However, in the last 24 hours, more than 89 patients lost their lives to COVID-19 in Bihar. Some 73 people died May 15 and 77 May 14.

Some 3,816 people have died due to COVID-19 in the state since the start of the pandemic.

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