Health officials find first cases of drug resistant fungal infection in US

07 November 2016

Thirteen individuals had taken ill following a serious and sometimes fatal fungal infection previously unseen in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday. The fungus, Candida auris, was known to be occur in healthcare settings such as hospitals and nursing homes. 

Seven cases were seen between May 2013 and August 2016 in four states - Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and New York and as of 31 August, four of the seven patients, all with bloodstream infections, died, though it was not clear whether their deaths were due to C. auris.

The remaining six cases were identified after August and were still under investigation.

"It appears that C. auris arrived in the United States only in the past few years," Dr Tom Chiller, chief of the CDC's Mycotic Diseases Branch, said in a statement. He added that scientists were working to better understand the fungus so they could develop recommendations to protect people at risk.

One study put the fatality rate from blood stream infections due to C auris at 50 per cent and some strains of the yeast were multidrug-resistant and cold not be treated by the three major classes of antifungal medications. 

The fungus was first reported in 2009 in Japan, and cases had been reported from  South Korea, India, South Africa, Kuwait, Colombia, Venezuela, Pakistan and the UK.

"Experience outside the United States suggests that C. auris has high potential to cause outbreaks in healthcare facilities," the CDC notes on its website. 

''We need to act now to better understand, contain and stop the spread of this drug-resistant fungus,'' the CDC's director, Dr Thomas Frieden, said in a statement. ''This is an emerging threat, and we need to protect vulnerable patients and others.''

The emergence of C auris and its apparent global spread after it was first identified in Japan in 2009 and since seen in a dozen countries on four continents, put the pathogen on the lengthening list of superbugs, disease-causing microbes that were resistant to many and, in some cases, all antibiotics.

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