Health care officials tracking nationally spreading deadly fungus in DC region

A deadly fungus that has been spreading through hospitals and other health care settings nationwide is being monitored in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 46 cases of “Candida auris” recorded in Maryland, 40 in Virginia and 19 in the District.

“This is just a different type of organism because it is a little more drug resistant,” said Shaina Bernard, an antimicrobial resistance coordinator at the Virginia Department of Health.

U.S. cases of the dangerous fungus tripled over just three years, and more than half of states have now reported it.

The COVID-19 pandemic likely drove part of the increase, CDC researchers wrote in a paper published Monday by Annals of Internal Medicine.

Hospital workers were strained by coronavirus patients, and that likely shifted their focus away from disinfecting some other kinds of germs, researchers said.

“It can easily transmit in health care settings,” Bernard said. “As we have more of these cases, it is becoming more difficult to stop the spread.”

The fungus is a form of yeast that is usually not harmful to healthy people but can be a deadly risk to fragile hospital and nursing home patients.

It spreads easily and can infect wounds, ears and the bloodstream. Some strains are so-called superbugs that are resistant to all three classes of antibiotic drugs used to treat fungal infections.

It was first identified in Japan in 2009 and has been seen in more and more countries. The first U.S. case occurred in 2013, but it was not reported until 2016. That year, U.S. health officials reported 53 cases.

The new study found cases have continued to shoot up, rising to 476 in 2019, to 756 in 2020, and then to 1,471 in 2021.

“We know that there was a huge strain on the health care settings and public health during the pandemic,” Bernard said. “We’ve been sounding the alarm for these facilities and have been working with them so they can accept patients and prevent transmission.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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