Cases of a deadly fungal infection resistant to all existing treatments have been spreading through nursing homes and hospitals in the United States for the first time, health officials said.
Outbreaks of Candida auris, an emerging yeast infection first identified in Asia in 2009, were reported in a Washington DC care home and at two Dallas, Texas, hospitals.
Among the cases were several that were impervious to all three major classes of medications.
“This is really the first time we’ve started seeing clustering of resistance” in which patients seemed to be getting the infections from each other, said Dr Meghan Lyman, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Candida auris is a harmful form of yeast 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 settings have been spurred by the fungus, classed as an “urgent” threat by the CDC, spreading through patient contact or on contaminated surfaces.
Health officials have sounded 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 was considered a last line of defence.
No evidence of the infections spreading from patient to patient was found in those cases. Scientists concluded the resistance to the drugs formed during treatment.
However, the new untreatable cases seen between January and April this year did spread, the CDC said.
A cluster of 101 Candida auris cases at a nursing home for severely sick patients in Washington DC included three that were resistant to all three kinds of antifungal medications. A cluster of 22 in two Dallas-area hospitals included two with that level of resistance. The facilities weren’t identified.
Of the five people who were fully resistant to treatment, three died – both Texas patients and one in Washington.
Dr Lyman said both are ongoing outbreaks, and additional infections have been identified since April. Those added numbers were not reported.
Investigators reviewed medical records and found no evidence of previous antifungal use among the patients in those clusters. Health officials say that means they spread from person to person.
Additional reporting by Associated Press