While it’s mostly the unvaccinated who end up in hospital on ventilators and dying of Covid, they are also at risk of catching a fatal fungal infection, which researchers have found to possibly increase mortality of Covid patients.
With 736 people in intensive care units (ICU) for Covid as of Wednesday, 378 were currently ventilated, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
Studies showed that it was the unvaxxed who ended up with severe Covid in ICUs, putting them at further risk of a potentially deadly fungal infection, said South African Medical Association chair Dr Angelique Coetzee.
Thursday’s statistics from Discovery Health showed that 90% of Covid patients in ICU were not fully vaccinated, while 88.9% of those on ventilators were also not fully vaccinated and of the deaths in the past two weeks, 95.2% were unvaxxed.
“The best thing to do for yourself is get vaccinated because you have antibiotics and cortisone medication and it plays a role and moves your immune system,” Coetzee said.
But research has found that those in ICU with Covid were at the risk of contracting an invasive fungal infection, which is sometimes due to the ventilators and catheters and may contribute to the high mortality rate.
This was found by Prof Carlien Pohl-Albertyn and Dr Obinna Ezeokoli of the pathogenic yeast research group at the University of Free State.
Their recent study done on tissue of patients who died from Covid after long treatment consistently found fungal infections, even though the infection was not detected while they were alive.
Another issue was that patients with severe Covid were not routinely checked for fungal co-infection, said Pohl-Albertyn.
This life-threatening bacterium is caused in Covid patients due to changes in their immune system. Those who are ventilated and have venous catheters and urinary catheters are also at the risk for fungal infection, she explained.
“Severe Covid causes changes in the immune system, such as an increased release of cytokines [molecules involved in inflamma
“Severe Covid causes changes in the immune system, such as an increased release of cytokines [molecules involved in inflammation] and a decrease in certain white blood cells – which help to fight other infections.
These changes might make patients more susceptible to invasive fungal infection.”
Severe Covid infection also causes damage to the lung tissue, making it easier to inhale fungi.
Those with comorbidities, which are common in severe patients, were also susceptible to fungal infections.
In some instances, it could be caused by medication to treat Covid, such as antibiotics, which could kill the “good bacteria” that helps keep the fungi in check.
With an estimated 3.2 million South Africans afflicted by fungal disease each year, a serious fungal infection was fatal, said Pohl-Albertyn.
“And yet few people, especially those with a weakened immune system, are aware of this lurking danger. Just like bacteria, these minute life forms are becoming resistant to the handful of treatment options.”