Doctors Hint at Cow Dung and Black Fungus Link, as People Turn to Gobar as Wonder Drug in Covid-hit India

A viral Reuters report says some people in Gujarat ‘going to cow shelters once a week to cover their bodies in cow dung and urine in hope’ it will help with Covid.

Doctors have raised the alarm over reports of people rubbing cow dung or urine on their bodies — branded “cow dung therapy” — in the belief that it will help them prevent or recover from Covid infection. The so-called therapy could possibly add to cases of “black fungus” or mucormycosis, which has been reported among some recovered patients who were administered steroids during Covid treatment, doctors say.

The warnings came after a viral May 12 video report by news agency Reuters said some people in Gujarat have been “going to cow shelters once a week to cover their bodies in cow dung and urine in the hope it will boost their immunity against, or help them recover from, the coronavirus”.

Gujarat is among the states that have been reporting cases of mucormycosis, especially in people with a history of diabetes. Cases have also been observed in Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, and Odisha.

Screenshot of Indian men taking a dip in cow dung water to fight off the coronavirus infection last year (Facebook of Brut India). The cow is a sacred symbol of life and the earth in the Hindu faith and people in India have used cow dung to clean homes and for prayer rituals as it is thought to have “therapeutic and antiseptic properties”.

In a tweet on 13 May, US-based Dr Faheem Younus, who has emerged as an important voice on Covid-19, suggested that the “use of cow dung as a ‘COVID Cure’ could be causing deadly black fungus disease (mucormycosis) in India”.

“I can’t prove it but it’s highly likely. Weigh your risks,” he tweeted, sharing a link from the website of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, America’s top health body, which mentions that mucormycetes, is present in animal dung.

According to the CDC, “Mucormycetes, the group of fungi that cause mucormycosis, are present throughout the environment, particularly in soil and in association with decaying organic matter, such as leaves, compost piles, and animal dung.”

‘A direct relationship’
Experts say those who have recovered from Covid-19 should be on the lookout for symptoms of mucormycosis, such as stuffy nose, headache, black lesions on the roof of the mouth, facial pain, and loss of vision.

According to Niti Aayog member (health) V.K. Paul, black fungus infection “is very uncommon among patients who do not have diabetes”.

Doctors say any Covid-19 patient who is diabetic or immunocompromised and has taken steroids should be warned against using cow dung.

Referring to the Reuters report, Dr Shailesh Kothalkar, head and neck cancer surgeon and director at Nagpur’s Seven Star Hospital, said it was a “worrying trend”.

“This video makes me worried. People with diabetes or immunocompromised conditions who took steroids of late will be at very high risk of developing black fungus if they follow this myth and believe that applying dung cures Covid,” he added.

“This will lead to a phenomenal increase in their chances of catching black fungus.”

Kothalkar said the pandemic has been marked by a significant increase in the number of mucormycosis cases being brought to him. In the two decades of his experience preceding the second wave, he said, he had operated on only 12 patients for mucormycosis. In the past two months, he has been doing three to four surgeries daily for mucormycosis, he added.

“Mucor thrives on dead plants, wood, or food-like substances. It grows on dung. There is a direct relationship between using dung and attracting mucor.”

Dr Digvijay Singh, head of the eye department at Narayana Hospital, Gurugram, said there is “no doubt that the relationship between dung and mucor exists”.

Like Kothalkar, Singh said he would earlier get just two to three cases of mucormycosis in a year. Now, the doctor has been diagnosing two to three cases every month.

“Mucormycetes is present everywhere in the environment around us, including soil and cow dung. We cannot escape it. While we cannot establish the relationship on use of cow dung and getting diagnosed with black fungus, it seems logical to think that use of dung definitely increases the risk of catching the mucor infection,” added Singh, whose experience in the field includes a decade at the country’s largest public hospital, AIIMS.

Dr Neha Gupta, a consultant in internal medicine at Gurugram-based Medanta, said cases of black fungus “would only be seen in places where people are following unscientific therapies and myths”.

“The relationship definitely exists. But till now, the major reasons behind the surge in (black fungus) cases are related to the climate, increased spore burden in hospitals, patients with uncontrolled diabetes, along with the use of steroids and other immunosuppressive Covid drugs,” she added.

“In India, although ancient medicine such as Ayurveda is given value our medical experts are definitely not using cow dung for treating Covid-19 patients.”