The American public really can’t handle hearing about another plague situation. But our tenuous emotional stability isn’t really the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s problem.
On Monday, the CDC announced that an “emerging” fungus, known as Candida auris, spread rapidly in U.S. healthcare facilities during the pandemic. Cases rose from 476 infections in 2019 to 1,471 in 2021. What’s worse, cases resistant to the primary anti-fungal drug used to treat it nearly tripled during this time period. And although we don’t have all the data yet, the CDC is already tracking a rise in cases from 2022. (We’re keeping a close watch for any emerging racial disparities).
Some of this rise is likely due to increased screenings, but experts also link new infections to the fact that the healthcare system was under enormous strain during the pandemic.
The million-dollar question is how concerned should we be about these findings.
At this point, there isn’t any reason to believe we’re in a The Last of Us situation. Infections from Candida auris aren’t considered to be a significant risk for otherwise healthy people because our immune systems can handle it.
But the threat is serious for people who are “very sick, very sick, have invasive medical devices, or have long or frequent stays in healthcare facilities.” The fungus can be incredibly deadly for these groups. Roughly 30 to 60 percent of hospitalized patients who develop bloodstream infections from the fungus die, according to a 2018 report published in Medical Mycology.
Part of what has public health experts so concerned is the extent to which the fungus has spread across the country. From 2019 to 2021, 17 states detected their first case of the fungus , which scientists first discovered in the United States in 2016.
“The rapid rise and geographic spread of cases is concerning and emphasizes the need for continued surveillance, expanded lab capacity, quicker diagnostic tests, and adherence to proven infection prevention and control,” said CDC epidemiologist Dr. Meghan Lyman .
It’s challenging to control the fungus once it’s entered a healthcare setting since it can be resistant to common disinfectants, Lyman told the Washington Post. The best way the prevent the spread seems to be prioritizing detection and general hygiene in hospitals.
At the moment, there aren’t concrete recommendations for what the average person should do to avoid an infection. But spending a few extra seconds washing your hands never hurts.