An influential US medical panel is warning of the dangers of a fast-spreading deadly fungus, just a week after the hit zombie show The Last of Us ended.
The American College of Physicians (ACAP) said the rise and spread of cases of antibiotic-resistant Candida auris, also known as C auris, is “particularly concerning.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) already described the fungus, which kills up to 60 percent of the people it infects, as an “urgent threat” in 2019.
But new research has revealed that the number of cases more than tripled across the United States between 2020 and 2021, and antibiotic-resistant strains also became more common.
The number of clinical and detection cases of C. auris reported to CDC between 2013 and 2021
The distribution of C. auris cases in the US as reported to CDC between 2013 and 2021
More attention has been paid to fungal infections due to HBO’s hit show ‘The Last of Us’, which involved cordyceps that had evolved to infect people, control their minds, and turn them into bloodthirsty zombies that watch vines grow. they explode out of their bodies and can infect others.
The World Health Organization warns that fungal infections are becoming a “major threat” to public health.
Some experts claim that fungi are becoming more common around the world as changing climates make environments more suitable for them.
The latest study, conducted by CDC researchers, looked at confirmed and probable cases reported to state and local health departments and the CDC between 2016 and 2021.
They found that infections increased from 1,310 in 2020 to 4,041 in 2021.
CDC data shows that fungal infections have already caused 7,000 deaths in the US and 1.5 million worldwide in 2021.
And the latest data shows that the increase in C auris cases does not stop, with 2,377 clinical cases and 5,754 cases of detection last year.
The study also found that cases of the antibiotic-resistant fungus echinocandin had also increased: in 2021 there were about three times as many cases as in each of the previous two years.
Candida caused 1,769 deaths in 2021, the majority of fungal infections in the US Aspergillosis caused 1,236 deaths, while Pneumocytis was responsible for 449
Fungal infections were responsible for more than 75,000 hospitalizations in the US in 2021. Among them, Candida caused the most, leading to the admission of more than 26,000 people. The next most common were also hit by the Georgia vaccine, Aspergillosis, responsible for nearly 15,000, and Pneumocytis, which caused just over 10,000.
The antifungal drug echinocandin is the first line of treatment given to treat C. auris.
The fungus was first reported in the US in 2016.
Three years later, the CDC gave the fungus their maximum level of concern. Because it is often multi-resistant, it is easily transmitted in healthcare settings and can cause serious infections with high mortality rates.
The main symptoms are fever and chills that do not improve. The fungus can cause many different types of infections, such as in the bloodstream, wounds, or ears.
The mortality rate depends on the state, but ranges from 30 to 60 percent.
It spreads through direct contact and can also be transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces or equipment.
People contract the fungus through physical contact with an infected person.
The fungus kills more than one in three people with invasive C auris (where the fungus has caused an infection affecting the blood, heart or brain).
The investigators observed clinical and screening cases. Because screening is not done uniformly across the United States, the number of C auris cases may be underestimated, they said.
Many of the first cases of C. auris in the US were imported from abroad, with most cases in recent years due to local transmission.
New York City and Chicago were hardest hit, but cases of the fungus have now occurred in more than half the US states.
Most of the spread of cases has been in long-term care hospitals and nursing homes.
Patients who are already sick and have multiple conditions, or who are on ventilators, are most at risk.
A total of 3,270 clinical cases and 7,413 detection cases were registered between 2019 and 2021.
Before that, cases rose from 53 in 2016 to 330 in 2018 and then rose 44 percent to 475 in 2019.
Clinical cases continued to rise each year, rising to 756 in 2020 and then nearly doubling to reach 1,471 in 2021.
Screening cases also increased, essentially tripling from 1,310 in 2020 to 4,041 in 2021.
Three states (Oregon, Minnesota and Michigan) reported their first case of the fungus in 2021. Meanwhile, areas with previous cases but limited spread, such as California, Texas and Florida, had new and increasing transmission.
The researchers said the growth in C. auris cases reflects “deficiencies in early identification of cases and implementation of infection prevention and control measures.”
They added that the increased spread may have been “exacerbated by pandemic-related strain on the healthcare and public health systems.”
The findings “highlight the need for improved infection detection and control practices to prevent the spread of C. auris,” the study authors wrote.