Deadly fungal infection is spreading at an alarming rate, CDC says

    A drug-resistant and potentially deadly fungus is rapidly spreading through U.S. healthcare facilities, a new government study finds.

    The fungus, a type of yeast called Candida auris or C. auris, can cause serious illness in people with weakened immune systems. The number of people diagnosed with an infection — as well as the number of people screened to be carriers of C. auris — has risen at an alarming rate since it was first reported in the U.S., researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday.

    The increases, “particularly in the most recent years, are really concerning to us,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Meghan Lyman, chief medical officer at the Division of Mycotic Diseases of the CDC, said in an interview. “We’ve seen increases not only in areas of continued transmission, but also in new areas.”

    Petri dish of candida auris in a laboratory in Würzburg, Germany
    Petri dish of candida auris in a lab in Würzburg, Germany, on January 23, 2018. Nicolas Armer / Photo Alliance via Getty Images file

    The CDC’s new warning, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, comes as Mississippi battles a growing outbreak of the fungus. As of November, at least 12 people have been infected with C. auris with four “potentially associated deaths,” the state health department said, Mississippi State Department of Health spokesman Tammy Yates said in an email.

    There has been ongoing transmission in two long-term care facilities, although cases have been identified in several other facilities across the state.

    “Unfortunately, multidrug-resistant organisms such as C. auris are more common in our highest-risk individuals, such as residents of long-term care facilities,” Yates said.

    The fungus can be found on the skin and throughout the body, according to the CDC. It is not a threat to healthy people, but about one-third of people who become ill with C. auris die.

    In the CDC report, researchers analyzed state and local health department data on people who had become sick with the fungus from 2016 through December 31, 2021, as well as those who were “colonized,” meaning they weren’t sick. but carried it on their bodies with the potential to pass it on to others who may be more vulnerable to it.

    The number of infections increased by 59% from 2019 to 2020 to 756 and then by another 95% to 1,471 in 2021.

    The researchers also found that the incidence of people not infected with the fungus but colonized by it increased by 21% in 2020 compared to 2019 and 209% in 2021, rising to 4,041 in 2021 compared to 1,310 in 2020.

    C. auris has now been detected in more than half of US states, the new study finds.

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