US health officials said Thursday they now have evidence of an untreatable fungus spreading in two hospitals and a nursing home.
Outbreaks of “superbugs” were reported at a Washington, DC nursing home and at two Dallas-area hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A handful of patients had invasive fungal infections that were immune to all three main classes of drugs.
“This is really the first time you’ve started to see resistance clusters” in which patients seemed to get infections from each other, said Dr. Meghan Lyman.
The fungus, Candida auris, is a harmful form of yeast that is considered dangerous to hospital and nursing home patients with serious medical problems. It is most deadly when it enters the bloodstream, heart, or brain. Outbreaks in healthcare facilities have been caused when the fungus is spread through patient contact or on contaminated surfaces.
Health officials have been sounding alarms for years about the superbug after seeing infections in which commonly used drugs had little effect. In 2019, doctors diagnosed three cases in New York that were also resistant to a class of drugs, called echinocandins, that were considered a last line of defense.
In those cases, there was no evidence that the infections had spread from patient to patient; scientists concluded drug resistance formed during treatment.
The new cases have spread, the CDC concluded.
In Washington, DC, a group of 101 C. auris cases in a nursing home dedicated to very ill patients included three that were resistant to all three types of antifungal medications. A group of 22 at two Dallas-area hospitals included two with that level of resistance. The facilities were not identified.
Those cases were seen from January to April. Of the five people who completely resisted the treatment, three died, both patients from Texas and one from Washington.
Lyman said both are ongoing outbreaks and additional infections have been identified since April. But those additional figures were not reported.
The researchers reviewed medical records and found no evidence of prior antifungal use among patients in those groups. Health officials say that means they are spread from person to person.