The CDC warned American hospitals last year to keep an eye out for the emergence of a possibly fatal, drug-resistant yeast infection, and now the agency's fears may be realized. CDC officials tell the Washington Post that 35 patients in the US have been stricken with Candida auris, a fungus that can cause bloodstream, wound, and ear infections, with another 18 people harboring the microbe without becoming ill. Some strains of the pathogen don't respond to the three main classes of antifungal drugs, and based on the small number of cases health officials have had the chance to review, 60% of patients hit with C. auris have died (though the agency notes many of those patients had other serious medical issues they were contending with). The fungus is contagious and durable, especially in health care facilities, where it can stick around on furniture and other equipment for months.
The first C. auris strain was reported in 2009 in a Japanese man, and it has since spread around the globe, including to Colombia, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Pakistan, South Korea, Venezuela, and the UK. The first US case was reported in 2013, and the CDC's latest report places 28 of the incidents in New York state, with other affected states including New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Illinois. CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat said at a recent briefing that "scary," "difficult to combat" drug-resistant microorganisms are on the rise, per the Post. Some good news is that C. auris hasn't morphed yet into new strains, and most people's chances of contracting it are very low, with it only affecting "the sickest of the sick," says CDC infectious disease specialist Tom Chiller. Also encouraging: a recent study IDing an antifungal that may prove useful. (No drug could save this Nevada woman.)