Cases of a potentially deadly and increasingly treatment-resistant fungus called Candida auris have skyrocketed 200% since 2019, prompting the CDC to issue a warning to health care facilities about the rising threat.
C. auris is a yeast that spreads easily by touching it on a surface like a countertop. It can also spread from person to person. It isn't a threat to healthy people, but people in hospitals and nursing homes are at a heightened risk because they might have weakened immune systems or be using invasive medical devices that can introduce the fungus inside their bodies. When C. auris progresses to causing an infection that reaches the brain, blood, or lungs, more than 1 in 3 people die.
The worrying increase was detailed in Tuesday's edition of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. In 2021, cases reached a count of 3,270 with an active infection and 7,413 that showed the fungus was present but hadn't caused an infection. Infection counts were up 95% over the previous year, and the fungus showed up on screenings three times as often. The number of cases resistant to medication also tripled.
The CDC called the figures "alarming," noting that the fungus was only detected in the U.S. in 2016.
"The timing of this increase and findings from public health investigations suggest C. auris spread may have worsened due to strain on healthcare and public health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic," the CDC explained in a news release.
Another potential reason for the jump could be that screening for C. auris has simply increased and it's being found more often because it's being looked for more often. But researchers believe that even with the increase in testing, the reported counts are underestimated. That's because even though screening has increased, health care providers still aren't looking for the presence of the fungus as often as the CDC would like.
"The rapid rise and geographic spread of cases is concerning and emphasizes the need for continued surveillance, expanded lab capacity, quicker diagnostic tests, and adherence to proven infection prevention and control," said study author and CDC epidemiologist Meghan Lyman, MD, in a statement.
Cases of C. auris continued to rise in 2022, the CDC said. A map on the agency's website of reported cases from 2022 shows it was found in more than half of U.S. states, with the highest counts occurring in California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New York, and Texas. The fungus is a problem worldwide and is listed among the most threatening treatment-resistant fungi by the World Health Organization.
The study authors concluded that screening capacity for the fungus needs to be expanded nationwide so that when C. auris is detected, measures can be taken to prevent its spread.
Annals of Internal Medicine: "Worsening Spread of Candida auris in the United States, 2019 to 2021."
CDC: "Increasing Threat of Spread of Antimicrobial-resistant Fungus in Healthcare Facilities," "Candida auris: A Drug-resistant Germ That Spreads in Healthcare Facilities," "Tracking Candida auris."
World Health Organization: "WHO releases first-ever list of health-threatening fungi."
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Cite this: Cases of Potentially Deadly Fungus Jump 200%: CDC - Medscape - Mar 21, 2023.