A deadly fungus that kills up to one in three people it infects is spreading rapidly across the United States and has reached yet another state.
Candida auris, a type of yeast resistant to most antifungal medications, is infecting Americans in 36 states, having arrived in Washington, according to the latest announcement from local health officials.
They said four patients treated at a Seattle hospital have been infected with the fungus since January.
The yeast is highly transmissible and spreads easily by touching contaminated surfaces among patients with weakened immune systems, and infections can trigger fatal sepsis.
And it is resistant to medications commonly used to treat fungal infections.
The image above is a stock image of the fungus Candida auris, which is most common in hospital environments where it spreads through contact with contaminated equipment.
Infection cases have skyrocketed dramatically since 2021, increasing by 95 percent in two years.
Last year, 2,377 cases were detected and the infection spread to six new states: New Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Delaware.
Since 2016, there have been 5,654 cases in the US.
Experts have expressed concern about these increases, and Dr. Meghan Lyman, medical director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said they were “really concerning to us.”
She said NBC: ‘Especially in recent years, (these increases) worry us a lot.
“We have seen increases not only in areas of ongoing transmission, but also in new areas.”
Health officials say C. auris, which can also be found in swamps and wetlands, poses little risk to healthy people because their immune system is strong enough to fight it off.
But the fungus is dangerous in hospitals, where it can spread to patients with comorbidities or people taking immunosuppressive drugs, such as anti-cancer drugs.
Initially, patients suffer from fever, chills and night sweats, but then the fungus can spread to the bloodstream and cause sepsis, a fatal immune reaction to an infection that causes very high levels of inflammation.
The fungus, which is detected by a blood test, can easily go undetected in the early stages of an infection.
And it can be difficult to treat because it is resistant to common antifungal medications and, in some cases, stronger medications called echinocandins.
In Washington, health officials say they were alerted to the first case in a patient at a hospital in Seattle on Jan. 10.
By the end of the month, three more cases had been detected in the hospital, and all three patients tested negative when they were first admitted.
Claire Brostrom-Smith, the state’s public health officer, said: “Most healthy people do not need to worry about C. auris infections.
‘The risk is mainly for patients who have long hospital stays and need medical interventions such as breathing tubes, feeding tubes or urinary catheters.
“Healthcare facilities that offer testing are taking an important proactive step to identify cases at an early stage and reduce the risk of spread to other patients.”
The cases are the first detected in Washington, and the state is also the second to detect the disease in the Northwest, after Oregon discovered infections in 2021.
Throughout 2022, the last year available, six states detected the fungus for the first time.
Concerns were also raised about an outbreak in Nevada, which was not linked to hospitals, suggesting the disease was spreading outside of hospital settings.
The number of reported cases increased 95 percent from 2020 to 2021, more than double the 44 percent jump from the previous year.
In 2021, 1,471 cases were registered.
In 2022, 2,377 cases of the fungus were diagnosed, an increase of 61 percent.
New York state has had the most cases recorded to date, with 1,325, followed by Illinois with 1,044 and California, with 813.
Among one of the patients who became infected with the fungus was Lorraine McCreary, 86, from Florida in 2019.
He died after suffering a fatal stroke following a C. auris infection.
Lorrie, as she was known to her friends and family, was originally admitted to the hospital with pneumonia in June, not uncommon at the end of her life.
But as he began to recover, his condition rapidly deteriorated and doctors ran a series of tests to find the cause.
He was eventually diagnosed with C. auris, which doctors believe he may have contracted from fungus in his oxygen tubes.