CDC Issues Alert About Superbug Fungus in United States

On Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a press release about the arrival of a superbug fungus, Candida auris, in the United States, an organism that was at least associated with the deaths of four people between May 2013 and August 2016.

The fungus, C. auris, has so far been identified in hospitalized patients who were ill with underlying medical conditions such as cancer and who averaged a hospital stay of 18 days duration. Such individuals likely have both compromised immune systems, making them more vulnerable to infection than healthy people, and many had antibiotic treatments that can also kill off healthy bacteria that would normally fight an invasion of C. auris.

While the CDC has identified 13 cases of C. auris infection in the United States to date, only seven have been fully investigated, with six others pending investigation. The deaths of four patients identified as being infected with the drug-resistant fungus are not being directly attributed as the cause of death. Six of the seven fungal infections were found after examination of hospital and laboratory records of those patients.

This type of fungus, C. auris, is difficult to identify in the laboratory without specialized methods for its detection. The fungus was originally misidentified as a different type of Candida infection in most of the seven patients.

The CDC has been on the lookout for the arrival of the fungus in the United States since June 2016, with its first possible case of C. auris in the country in 2013. The drug-resistant form of Candida was first identified in Japan in 2009 and has spread around the world since then. The seven patients confirmed with the fungal infection in the United States were found in four states: Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, with two of those patients receiving care in the same facility.

The public health agency reports that on a positive note, the strains of C. auris thus far identified did not prove resistant to all three major classes of antifungal medications, as did many of the strains identified in other countries. Seventy-one percent of the U.S. strains did show some drug resistance, but not for all three classes.

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