The fungus, Candida auris, can be a fatal risk to fragile hospital and nursing home patients.
Cases of a dangerous fungus tripled in the United States over just three years and more than half of the states have now reported it, according to a new study.
The COVID-19 pandemic likely drove part of the increase, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote in a paper published on Monday by Annals of Internal Medicine. Hospital workers were strained by coronavirus patients, and that likely shifted their focus away from disinfecting some other kinds of germs, they said.
The fungus, Candida auris, is a form of yeast that is usually not harmful to healthy people but can be a fatal risk to fragile hospital and nursing home patients. It spreads easily and can infect wounds, ears and blood vessels. Some strains are so-called superbugs that are resistant to all three classes of antibiotic drugs used to treat fungal infections.
It was first identified in Japan in 2009 and has been seen in more and more countries. The first US case occurred in 2013, but it was not reported until 2016. That year, US health officials reported 53 cases.
The new study found cases have continued to shoot up, rising to 476 in 2019, to 756 in 2020, and then to 1,471 in 2021. Doctors have also detected the fungus on the skin of thousands of other patients, making them a transmission risk to others.
Also concerning is a tripling in 2021 of the number of cases resistant to echinocandins, the class of drugs most often recommended for the treatment of the disease.
Many of the first US cases were infections that had been imported from abroad, but now most infections are spread within the US, the authors noted.