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Deadly Fungal Infection Is Spreading Rapidly, CDC Says—These Are the Risk Factors

Case counts are rising "at an alarming rate," the health authority warns.

In a world still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, few things are more unsettling than reports of a rapidly spreading new health concern. Yet on Monday, Mar. 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a startling warning about Candida auris (C. auris), a deadly fungal infection that's on the rise.

Citing a new paper published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine as cause for concern, the health authority reported that clinical cases of C. auris have increased consistently over the past several years. From 2019 to 2021, experts saw an especially dramatic uptick, with cases increasing from 476 in 2019 to 1,471 during that period.

The CDC warns that C. auris "can cause severe infections with high death rates," but says certain people are at disproportionate risk. Read on to learn which factors could be putting you in danger—and why experts say the general public shouldn't panic just yet.

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A deadly fungal infection is spreading in hospitals, the CDC warns.

Man in hospital bed sleeping

Naming C. auris an "urgent threat," the CDC wrote that the fungal infection is spreading "at an alarming rate." Though the infection was initially found in just four states in 2016, the health authority noted that between 2019 and 2021, 17 additional states reported their first case or cases of the infection.

In response, experts are calling for increased monitoring and prevention measures. "The rapid rise and geographic spread of cases is concerning and emphasizes the need for continued surveillance, expanded lab capacity, quicker diagnostic tests, and adherence to proven infection prevention and control," said CDC epidemiologist Meghan Lyman, MD, lead author of the paper, via the CDC's press release.

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C. auris infections are resistant to treatment.

A scientist completing a study in a lab looking into a microscope while wearing full protective gear

If its widespread proliferation wasn't concerning enough, the CDC also notes that C. auris is resistant to multiple types of treatment. Referring to the fungal infection as "an urgent antimicrobial resistance (AR) threat," the health authority also noted a tripling of cases that were resistant to echinocandins, the antifungal medicine most commonly recommended to treat C. auris infections.

NBC Senior Medical Correspondent John Torres, MD, emphasized in an interview with Today that "this is not going to take over the globe and cause Armageddon throughout the world, but it is something that definitely needs to be looked into." The outlet reported that since Nov. 2022, there have been 12 confirmed cases of infection, and four "potentially associated deaths."

The infection is "not a threat" to healthy people, the CDC says.

middle-aged woman talking to doctor
Lordn / Shutterstock

Though the spread of a treatment-resistant infection is certainly cause for concern, the CDC notes that "in general, C. auris is not a threat to healthy people."

Waleed Javaid, MD, an epidemiologist, infectious disease expert, and director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Hospital, elaborated while speaking with NBC News. Though he acknowledged that the emergence of new cases is "worrisome," he also urged the public not to panic. "We don't want people who watched The Last of Us to think we're all going to die," Javaid told the outlet. "This is an infection that occurs in extremely ill individuals who are usually sick with a lot of other issues."

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These are the risk factors for a C. auris infection.

Recovering Little Child Lying in the Hospital Bed Sleeping, Mother Holds Her Hand Comforting. Focus on the Hands. Emotional Family Moment.

There are, however, certain risk factors which greatly increase your risk of contracting the infection. "People who are very sick, have invasive medical devices, or have long or frequent stays in healthcare facilities are at increased risk for acquiring C. auris," the health authority wrote. For instance, patients who have been placed on ventilators, long-term IV lines, or cardiac catheters would be considered high risk.

The CDC says it believes case counts have risen in part due to "poor general infection prevention and control (IPC) practices in healthcare facilities," which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you believe you are at heightened risk for C. auris, talk to your healthcare provider about what disinfection protocols they follow to prevent its spread.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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