‘Urgent Threat’: Fungal Infection Cases Growing In US

(Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)

Font Size:

Fungal infection cases involving Candida auris doubled in 2021, alarming officials who have called the emerging fungus an “urgent” threat.

Candida auris presents a “serious global threat” as it is often resistant to antifungal treatments, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The fungus is also difficult to identify with standard lab methods, leading to misdiagnoses and “inappropriate management” of the infection. These qualities of the fungus can cause problems in healthcare settings, such as nursing homes, where an outbreak can spread quickly, the CDC continued.

“Fungal pathogens are a major threat to public health as they are becoming increasingly common and resistant to treatment with only four classes of antifungal medicines currently available, and few candidates in the clinical pipeline. Most fungal pathogens lack rapid and sensitive diagnostics and those that exist are not widely available or affordable globally,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement.

A study tracking the “urgent antimicrobial resistance threat” of Candida auris found that incidences of the fungus increased in patients every year between 2016 and 2021, the CDC reported. Between 2020 and 2021, the cases skyrocketed, spreading at an “alarming rate” within U.S. healthcare facilities. Medical researchers attributed the large number of infections in 2021 to pandemic-related strains on the health care system, the CDC stated.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the reported incidence of invasive fungal infections increased significantly among hospitalized patients,” the WHO stated.  The WHO also warned that as the fungi that cause common infections also become resistant to treatment, the risks of more invasive fungal infections grow more prevalent.

“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, told CNN. “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.” (RELATED: Scientists Name Fungus-Eradicating Bacterial Compound After Keanu Reeves)

Though Candida auris doesn’t typically sicken those who are healthy, it can cause serious, sometimes fatal infections to those already suffering from a debilitating illness like HIV, cancer or diabetes, the CDC reported.