A warning against a new fungal infection spreading “dramatically” across the US has been issued by an official of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a new study.
The fungus, a type of yeast called Candida auris or C auris, can cause severe illness in people with weakened immune systems, said the research, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal.
The fungus can be found on the skin and throughout the body.
“C auris cases and transmission have risen in recent years, with a dramatic increase in 2021,” the research said.
The paper evaluated cases of Candida auris reported to the CDC from 2016, when cases were first reported in the US, till 2021.
Researchers found a total of 3,270 clinical cases and 7,413 screening cases of C auris in in the US till 31 December 2021.
“The percentage increase in clinical cases grew each year, from a 44 per cent increase in 2019 to a 95 per cent increase in 2021,” the paper said.
Seventeen US states identified their first C auris case from 2019-21.
“These findings highlight the need for improved detection and infection control practices to prevent spread of C auris,” the paper said.
The CDC said the fungal infection is an “urgent threat” because it is often multidrug-resistant, easily spreads through healthcare facilities and can cause deadly disease.
It is also resistant to some common disinfectants and can be carried on people’s skin without causing symptoms, easily spreading to others.
The CDC warning comes as Mississippi is fighting a growing outbreak of the fungus.
Tammy Yates, spokesperson for the Mississippi State Department of Health, said in an email to NBC that since November, at least 12 people have been infected with C auris with four “potentially associated deaths”.
According to the researchers, the timing of this increased spread suggests it may have been exacerbated by the “pandemic-related strain on the health care and public health system”.
Researchers said the fungus can cause severe illness in people with weakened immune systems.
The increases, “especially in the most recent years, are really concerning to us,” Dr Meghan Lyman, the study’s lead author and chief medical officer in the CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch, was quoted as saying in an interview to NBC.
“We’ve seen increases not just in areas of ongoing transmission, but also in new areas,” she added.
Experts said the increased prevalence and drug resistance of Candida auris is a serious health threat.
“I think this problem is not going to go away. I think it’s really only going to increase over time,” Dr Scott Roberts, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Medicine who was not involved with the new study, told CNN.
He said that unlike other fungi that are typically acquired from the environment, Candida auris is easily spread from person to person.
“Once it sets up shop, in a nursing home for example, it’s almost impossible to eradicate.
“Once it’s on patients too, it can kind of just be colonized for years, if not their life.”
The new study reveals an eerie parallel to HBO’s hit post-apocalyptic TV series The Last of Us, which reveals a dystopian world in which Cordyceps – a heat-adapted fungus that exists in the real world – takes over humans and turns them into zombies.
Experts, however, have pointed out that while fungus-related infections pose a threat to humans due to the climate crisis, there is no evidence to show they can result in people turning into zombies.