Doctors in India are reporting COVID-19 patients with gangrene, hearing loss, and diarrhea - but there's not enough data to prove they're caused by the Delta variant
A woman is seen near the collapse at MMG Hospital in Ghaziabad, India, just before the collapse when tested for Covid-19 infection.
Doctors in India say COVID-19 patients have unusual symptoms that could be due to the Delta variant.
These include gangrene and hearing loss.
Not enough sequencing tests are sent to laboratories to determine if they only apply to the Delta variant.
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Doctors in India claim the highly contagious Delta variant could cause unusual symptoms like gangrene and hearing loss, which they think are becoming more common in COVID-19 patients of all ages.
Alarming details of the symptoms were reported by Bloomberg on June 7th and followed up by the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror in the UK, where the Delta variant now accounts for 91% of new COVID cases.
The highly infectious variant has spread in 67 countries and is becoming more and more common worldwide. However, with fewer cases sequenced in India, there isn't enough data to be sure whether symptoms are unique to the variant or are generally caused by COVID, which has already been linked to unusual symptoms such as diarrhea and bloodstream problems.
The delta variant is estimated to be 60% more contagious than the alpha variant currently most common in the United States. It also has mutations that mean it can partially avoid the immune response.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the senior medical advisor to President Joe Biden, warned last week that the fast-spreading Delta variant could catch on in the US if more Americans stopped getting their COVID-19 vaccinations. A May document from Public Health England reported that Pfizer and AstraZeneca's vaccines were 88% and 60% effective against the Delta variant, respectively, after both doses.
Dr. Ganesh Manudhane, consultant cardiologist at Seven Hills Hospital in Mumbai, told Insider that he saw four patients each year who had small blood clots that caused gangrene, a serious condition in which a loss of blood supply leads to the death of body tissue. Now it's one person every week, he said.
"I suspect it could be the Delta variant because of the increased number of cases," said Manudhane - but he added that he did not genetically sequence the patient's coronavirus tests to look for the Delta variant the most common variant of COVID has become in the country since it was first identified there in October.
Dr. Abdul Ghafur, an infectious disease consultant at Apollo Hospital in Chennai, told Insider that he has seen far more cases of people with COVID-19 presenting with diarrhea than in the first wave in 2020.
But "all the conclusions drawn by local doctors across the country were based on their clinical experience, not published data," he said.
It is not clear how many people in India are infected with Delta compared to other variants. It is one of three similar strains of the virus, all of which are native to India.
Some statistics group these three together, and not all positive coronavirus tests are sequenced in the lab to look for variants. According to a report in Nature, 0.75% of all cases in India were sequenced in April. The country has had 29.45 million registered cases since the pandemic began.
This lack of data holds back doctors' understanding of the variant.
Ghafur added that "despite having the second highest number of [COVID-19] patients in the world, India's leading research institute, the Indian Council of Medical Research, has not conducted any scientific studies of value."
Anurag Agarwal, director at the Institute for Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi, told Insider that there was no clear link between the Delta variant and atypical symptoms.
Agarwal said the increase in people with atypical symptoms could be due to the increase in the total number of COVID cases in India rather than the increase in the Delta variant.
Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, told a briefing in the UK on Wednesday that there may be a spectrum of rare diseases that do not get sick if large numbers of people typically get sick at all.
Dr. Jeffery Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at Wellcome Sanger Institute, UK, said at the same briefing that the UK is processing up to 20,000 tests every week.
INSACOG, a group of research laboratories that perform sequencing in India, said they have sequenced more than 10,000 samples since it was set up in December.
Barrett told the briefing there was no data to suggest the Delta variants caused any symptoms different from other variants.
Read more: Experts Explain Why mRNA Technology That Revolutionized COVID-19 Vaccines Could Be The Answer To Incurable Diseases, Heart Attacks And Even Snakebites: "The Possibilities Are Endless"
A health worker takes a swab from a man's nose through a glass sign on Aug 8, 2020 in New Delhi, India (for safety reasons). Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 are provided free of charge by the Government of India.
Black fungus is not a symptom of the coronavirus, but rather a complication that occurs in the weeks following infection. Doctors in India have anecdotally linked it to the Delta variant.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan, India's health minister, said Monday that more than 28,000 cases of black fungus infections have been recorded in people with compromised immunity or diabetes. Of these, 86% had COVID-19.
The link between black fungus and suppressed immunity or diabetes has not been established - but it has been suggested that the high number of both in India could explain the number of cases.
Ghafur said he believed the Delta variant was most likely causing the rise in black fungus cases.
"India has always been the diabetes capital of the world and the use of steroids that suppress the immune system was widespread in the first wave," Ghafur told Insider. "The only difference this time is the Delta version."
Dr. Shailesh Kothalkar, an ENT surgeon at Seven Star Hospital in the western city of Nagpur, told the Telegraph that the Delta variant "damages the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin and regulate blood sugar levels."
"We need more research on this, but [...] about 40% more patients will develop diabetes after contracting COVID-19 during this second wave," he said.
Professor David Denning, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Manchester and chairman of the board of the Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections, told the Telegraph, “It is possible that another variant could be causing more disruption to the nasal or pulmonary lining ... and that would make it possible for fungi , easier to penetrate. "
"But it's a little skimpy," he said.
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