More than six years ago, news of a newly discovered drug-resistant "killer fungus" started making the rounds in the US, and scientists hoped to "contain and stop the spread" of it. Now, a concerning development, as the CDC notes that the possibly fatal fungus has been charging through health care facilities around the country, reports NBC News. A new CDC study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on the fungus—a yeast called Candida auris that especially affects older people and those with weakened immune systems—found that not only is the number of people with an infection from the fungus spiking at an "alarming rate," but the number of those carrying C. auris is also rising. The New York Times has the numbers: In 2019, state and local health departments reported about 500 cases of the fungal infection.
By 2021, that had reached nearly 1,500—a 200% increase. Although the study itself didn't include 2022's numbers, a CDC website noted that last year saw 2,377 cases. C. auris is now found in more than half of the nation's states, with Nevada, Florida, California, Texas, Illinois, and New York seeing the highest concentrations, per the CDC site. The fatality rate of C. auris patients is also concerning: The CDC says about half of those who become infected die, though researchers acknowledge they aren't able to point to the fungus itself as the main cause of death, as those who die often have other medical issues. Then there's the fact that the fungus is highly resistant to various drug classes, including echinocandins. Per the Times, health officials say "if resistance to echinocandins becomes more common as the germ evolves, C. auris could become extremely difficult, if not impossible, to treat."
Scientists believe that the fungal infection may have worsened during the pandemic due to attention and resources being directed toward COVID, and because medical professionals' personal protective gear, which C. auris clings to, was changed out less often due to shortages. None of this means that fighting the fungus is a lost cause, as there has been progress on stopping the spread in New York and Illinois. And Dr. Waleed Javaid, an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai, says that patients who contract the infection are typically "extremely ill individuals" with other issues. "We don't want people who watched The Last of Us to think we're all going to die," he tells NBC. (Read more fungus stories.)