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Deadly Fungus Spreads Rapidly in US

CDC reports increase in the spread of deadly Candida auris fungus in USA
CDC reports an increase in the spread of the deadly Candida auris fungus in the USA. Credit: Shawn Lockhart / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.

A fungal infection known as Candida auris (C. auris) has become a pressing antimicrobial resistance (AR) threat, as per the CDC’s data published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

On Monday, March 20, 2023, researchers from CDC reported in a press release that the fungus could cause severe illness in people with weakened immune systems, based on the retrospective data collected between 2019 to 2021.

The number of people diagnosed, as well as the number who were found through screening to be carrying C. auris, has been rising at an alarming rate since the fungus was first reported in the US in 2016.

The fungus was identified in 2009 in Asia, but scientists have said C. auris first appeared around the world about a decade earlier.

Dr. Meghan Lyman, chief medical officer of the CDC’s mycotic diseases branch, said the increases, “especially in the most recent years, are really concerning to us.”

“We’ve seen increases not just in areas of ongoing transmission but also in new areas,” she said.

Dr. Lyman also said she was concerned about the increasing number of fungus samples resistant to the common treatments for it.

However, this emerging fungus is not typically a threat to healthy individuals. People who are critically ill, have invasive medical devices or have extended or frequent stays in healthcare facilities are at higher risk of contracting C. auris.

First reporting of Candida Auris

The prevalence of Candida auris (C. auris) in the United States was first reported in 2016. As of December 31, 2021, there had been a total of 3,270 clinical cases, and 7,413 screening cases reported, where the fungus was detected but not causing an infection.

During the period of 2019-2021, 17 states in the country identified their first C. auris case. Nationally, the number of clinical cases jumped from 476 in 2019 to 1,471 in 2021, while screening cases tripled from 2020 to 2021, reaching a total of 4,041, according to CDC.

Reasons for the rapid spread of C. auris

One of the leading causes of this increase can be attributed to inadequate infection prevention and control (IPC) measures in healthcare establishments, according to CDC.

Additionally, the augmentation in case counts can be attributed to the escalation of screening efforts, including colonization screening, a diagnostic test that can detect the presence of the fungus on an individual’s body, even in the absence of an active infection or related symptoms.

The current timing of this uptick, coupled with the results of recent public health investigations, suggests that the spread of C. auris may have been further exacerbated due to the overwhelming burden that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the healthcare and public health systems, CDC mentioned.

CDC’s response to rising in C. auris spread

The CDC’s Antimicrobial Resistance Laboratory Network plays a crucial role in detecting antimicrobial resistance and preventing its spread.

Recently, this network has provided important data for a new report. The CDC has taken steps to improve lab capacity across the nation, thanks to supplemental funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

As part of these efforts, susceptibility testing capacity for C. auris has been expanded from just seven Regional Labs to more than 26 labs nationwide.

Despite these improvements, C. auris remains a serious threat to public health. To combat this emerging danger, the CDC says it is collaborating with state, local, and territorial health departments as well as other partners.

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