Jaime Díaz de León has fought death twice. In less than 15 days, two unprecedented diseases invaded his body: covid-19 and rhinocerebral mucormycosis, better known as black fungus. Originally from the city of Delicias, in the State of Chihuahua, this man began to manifest the first symptoms of the coronavirus in October of last year. “I could not breathe, my voice was falling, I was walking 100 meters and I was totally tired,” he says. The severity of his condition required hospitalization, administration of steroids and oxygenation continued for two weeks. A few days after his admission to the medical center, he lost the vision in his left eye, the first sign of black fungus disease.
After being discharged for the coronavirus, this 48-year-old man began his pilgrimage with ophthalmologists and neurosurgeons to find a cure for his partial blindness. Along that journey, the acute headaches began that prevented him from going back to work in the health and hygiene products factory where he worked. “It was an unbearable headache, I woke up at dawn crying from the pain and my daughter had to inject to take away the pain to be able to sleep, eat and get through the day, so I spent almost a month,” she recalls. At the IMSS, he assures, the doctors minimized his ailments and only explained that those pains were caused by his high blood pressure.
After weeks adrift, without a clear diagnosis, Díaz de León finally arrived at a private hospital in Chihuahua at the end of last January. In addition to an extensive list of medical consultations and hypotheses, the patient carried several boxes of analgesics, anti-inflammatories and general antibiotics to treat what appeared to be harmless sinusitis. The neurosurgeon Luis Ordoñez Solorio detected a severe sinusitis that destroyed the orbit of the eye and invaded the base of the skull as well as a cerebral aneurysm. “Although at that time there was no pathological confirmation that it was a fungus, we knew it was an aggressive infection and it was urgent to operate on it,” explains the specialist.
After the aneurysm was treated, a team of experts performed another surgery to clean the infectious contents and free the sinuses. Doctors had to remove the left eye, which was completely invaded by the fungus, to prevent the spread of the infection. As the fungal spread was internal, the patient did not develop the characteristic blackish spots on the eye. Ordoñez Solorio details that unlike other patients, the progress of the fungus was less aggressive because the patient did not have any pre-existing disease such as diabetes or cancer, a determining factor in saving his life.
Ordoñez Solorio emphasizes that the fungal agent is present in the environment and it is difficult to know how many patients with coronavirus can develop symptomatic black fungus disease. “The strangest thing in medicine we have learned with covid and that has been a change in the thinking of doctors, we have seen completely unusual things and mucormycosis is one of them. We are facing a disease that was very rare before, but I do consider that today, in the context of the pandemic, reported cases of mucor may be on the rise and probably many cases are not being diagnosed because they may be advancing rapidly “, Add.
In Mexico, the first suspected case of black fungus infection was made known earlier this month in Chalco, in the State of Mexico. The relatives of Gregorio Avendaño Jiménez, 34, assured the man had a few weeks after having overcome the coronavirus when he began with a headache and blackish spots on his face. Despite his emergency transfer to an IMSS hospital in Mexico City, this patient died days later. To date, the health authorities have not confirmed the diagnosis of mucormycosis in this person. In addition, this Thursday the Oaxaca Health Secretariat reported two covid-19 patients who probably also suffer from black fungus. Laboratory tests are being carried out to confirm these cases.
Díaz de León does not need the health authorities to publicly acknowledge his illness or the reasons why he lost his left eye. Doctors explained that the steroids they administered to help her lungs during COVID-19 weakened her immune system and led to the inoculation of the fungus. This survivor of the black fungus ensures that there is an under-record of patients who developed this opportunistic mycosis after suffering from coronavirus. “I say that there were more cases [de mucormicosis], but unfortunately without information or anything they died from covid ”, he says.
In the last 15 years, some 10,000 cases of the black fungus have been detected in Mexico, a low incidence of a disease that has a mortality rate of over 90%, according to data from the UNAM Faculty of Medicine. Unlike covid-19, this condition is not transmitted from person to person, the causative fungi are found in the environment and reach the body mainly through the air, gastrointestinal or skin. Under normal conditions, the immune system of a healthy person eliminates the fungus, however, when the body is vulnerable, the risk of triggering the fungal infection multiplies.
Díaz de León is now fighting before the courts so that the IMSS will provide him with free medicines to continue eliminating the black fungus. He and his family have paid for both the coronavirus and mucormycosis with their own resources. Only the weekly treatment to eliminate the fungus, he says, has a cost of 15,000 pesos per week. “The IMSS has not supported us and we continue to buy this medicine, we have sold goods to continue buying all the medicines,” he says.
From a distance and after learning that other black fungus patients have died, Díaz de León says he is blessed. “I am 48 years old and nothing has ever happened to me before. I am not diabetic, I am not hypertensive, I have not used any drugs. So, they are occasions in life that happen and my word is the attitude and not be regretting, you have to get ahead, there is no other way ”, ditch. Although he must continue in treatment until next August, he has already returned to work at the plant and in his spare time he takes advantage of what he considers his third chance at life with his wife and two daughters.
Subscribe here to newsletter of EL PAÍS México and receive all the informative keys of the current situation of this country
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.