CDC Warns Of Dangerous Drug-Resistant Fungus Spreading With Speed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned on Monday that Candida auris (C. auris) has spread quickly in healthcare facilities. The spread of C. auris is particularly concerning because it's resistant to several antifungal treatments and can cause severe infections and possibly death among people with weakened immune systems.

The CDC pointed to its recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which found a significant increase in C. auris cases from 2019 to 2021. Compared to the previous two years, there were three times more cases in 2021 that were resistant to echinocandins — the antifungal drug typically used for treating C. auris. The study also noted that the number of cases might be underestimated.

"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," CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the study Dr. Meghan Lyman said in the CDC news release.

Why C. auris has been spreading

The CDC says that the number of C. auris cases might be on the rise because healthcare settings have inadequate infection prevention and control procedures. The spread of C. auris might have also have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which placed tremendous strain on healthcare environments. On the other hand, the number of reported cases of C. auris might also have increased because of improved ways of detecting the fungus, such as colonization screening, which detects the presence of the fungus even if someone doesn't have an infection. Infectious disease expert and director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York Dr. Waleed Javaid tells NBC News that C. auris can survive on walls, bedding, and chairs in healthcare settings.

According to the CDC, C. auris poses the most risk for people who've had long-term stays in a healthcare facility (such as a nursing home), had lines or tubes connected to their body, or had antibiotic or antifungal treatments. People with diabetes or who've had recent surgery are also at higher risk for a C. auris infection.

The fungus spreads by touching a surface or a person that's been infected with C. auris. Between 30% and 60% of C. auris infections have resulted in death, but in most of these cases, the person has had another serious illness. The CDC says that C. auris doesn't pose a serious health threat to people who are generally healthy.