- A total of 3,270 clinical cases of Candida auris have been reported in the U.S.
- Cases have been reported in 35 states and in the District of Columbia
- The COVID-19 pandemic may have helped aggravate Candida auris’ spread
A fungus that can kill up to more than half of the people it infects spread at an “alarming rate” in American healthcare facilities between 2020 and 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claimed.
About 3,270 clinical cases of Candida auris were recorded in the United States between the time the fungus was first reported in the country in 2016 and Dec. 31, 2021, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that cited CDC data.
The fungus, which is named after the Latin word for ear, can cause bloodstream, wound and ear infections.
Invasive infections with any Candida species of fungus can be deadly, but those who contract Candida auris are more likely to die with its 30% to 60% fatality rate, the CDC said.
Nearly half of the patients who contract the fungus die within 90 days, The New York Times reported, citing the health agency.
The U.S. saw the “most rapid rise” in Candida auris cases between 2020 and 2021, with 2021 seeing 1,471 nationwide cases compared to 476 in 2019, the CDC said in a Sunday press release.
Cases of the fungus have been reported in 35 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, CDC data showed.
“C. auris case counts have increased for many reasons, including poor general infection prevention and control (IPC) practices in healthcare facilities. Case counts may also have increased because of enhanced efforts to detect cases,” the CDC said.
“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,” it added.
The CDC has classified the fungus as an urgent antimicrobial resistance threat as it is “often resistant to multiple antifungal drugs, spreads easily in healthcare facilities, and can cause severe infections with high death rates,” it noted.
While more work is needed to further understand how Candida auris spreads, the CDC said that the fungus can spread in healthcare settings through contact with contaminated environmental surfaces or equipment, or from person to person.
Healthy people are generally safe from Candida auris, but those who are very sick, have invasive medical devices or have long frequent stays in healthcare facilities are at increased risk of acquiring it.
Those who become infected with the fungus can be treated with echinocandins.
However, Candida auris cases that were resistant to echinocandins, the antifungal medicine most recommended for treatment of the fungus, tripled in number in 2021, according to the CDC.
Efforts to stop the spread of Candida auris in New York and Illinois appeared to have been effective in containing the fungus within the healthcare systems in those states.
“It’s not a hopeless situation,” said Dr. Meghan Lyman, a CDC epidemiologist and the lead author of the paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.