A deadly and highly-drug-resistant fungus is spreading rapidly in long-term care and other health facilities in the U.S.
In research published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described recent changes in the U.S. epidemiology of Candida auris occurring from 2019 to 2021.
Candida auris is a species of fungus that grows as yeast. It is one of the few species of the genus Candida which cause candidiasis in humans. Quite often, it is acquired in hospitals or other long-term facilities by patients with weakened immune systems.
The fungus gets its name from the Latin word for ear, auris. It forms smooth, shiny, whitish-gray, viscous colonies on growth media. Microscopically cells are ellipsoid in shape
C. auris was first isolated from a geriatric patient in Japan in 2009. By 2011, South Korea had seen its first cases of disease-causing C. auris. From this point, C. auris spread across Asia and Europe and first appeared in the U.S. in 2013.
Fungal infections from the yeast strain known as Candida auris tripled nationally from 476 in 2019 to 1,471 in 2021, according to CDC data, reports the Washington Post. And during the same time period, the number of cases where a person carries the fungus but is not infected nearly quadrupled from 1,077 to 4,040.
CDC data shows that the fungus has also expanded geographically. Between 2019 and 2021, 17 states identified their first cases.
CDC investigators still do not know why four different strains of C. auris emerged around the same time across the globe. All four strains have been found in the United States, likely introduced through international travel and subsequent spread in U.S. healthcare facilities.
Between 30 to 70 percent of hospitalized people who develop bloodstream infections are estimated to die, according to a study published in 2019. The researchers also point out that since its description in 2009, C. auris has been reported in 23 countries spanning five continents.
The spread of Candida auris in the US comes amid growing concerns about health-threatening fungi, reports CNN News. CDC experts say the increased spread underscores the need for robust infection control plans to reduce transmission.
“If [the fungi] get into a hospital, they are very difficult to control and get out,” William Schaffner, a professor of medicine in the infectious diseases division of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “They can persist, smoldering, causing infections for a considerable period of time despite the best efforts of the infection control team and everyone else in the hospital.”