First 13 cases of deadly fungal infection emerge in US

Dr Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, delivers remarks during a press conference Sept 29, 2016 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI (AFP) - Thirteen cases of a sometimes deadly and often drug-resistant fungal infection, Candida auris, have been reported in the United States for the first time, health officials said Friday (Nov 4).

The infection, which often spreads in hospitals and other health care settings, was identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2016 as an emerging global threat.

Four of the patients diagnosed with the infection have died, although the precise causes remain unclear, the CDC said.

"We need to act now to better understand, contain and stop the spread of this drug-resistant fungus," CDC Director Tom Frieden said.

"This is an emerging threat and we need to protect vulnerable patients and others."

The report in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) described seven of the cases, which occurred between May 2013 and August 2016.

Another six "were identified after the period covered by the report and are still under investigation," it said.

The first seven cases were reported in New York, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey.

"All of the patients had serious underlying medical conditions and had been hospitalised an average of 18 days when C. auris was identified," it said.

Of the four who died, "it is unclear whether the deaths were associated with C. auris infection or underlying health conditions."

A total of 71 per cent of the C. auris strains from US patients "showed some drug resistance, making treatment more difficult," the CDC report added.

"Samples of C. auris strains from other countries have been found to be resistant to all three major classes of antifungal medications."

Although lab tests showed the US strains were related to strains from South Asia and South America, none of the patients had travelled to or had any direct links to those regions.

The health authorities believe the US infections were acquired locally.

"It appears that C. auris arrived in the United States only in the past few years," said Tom Chiller, chief of CDC's Mycotic Diseases Branch.

"We're working hard with partners to better understand this fungus and how it spreads so we can improve infection control recommendations and help protect people."

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