Potentially deadly fungus spreading rapidly across California, CDC says

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FILE - This undated photo made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at a CDC laboratory. In a CDC paper published by the Annals of Internal Medicine on Monday, March 20, 2023, U.S. cases of the dangerous fungus tripled over just three years, and more than half of states have now reported it. (Shawn Lockhart/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP, File)
A strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory. A CDC paper published on Monday shows the dangerous fungus is spreading rapidly across the U.S. (Shawn Lockhart / Associated Press)

A potentially deadly, drug-resistant fungus is spreading rapidly across the United States, with California seeing the second-most cases of any state in the last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC announced Monday that the fungus — called Candida auris or C. auris — has been spreading faster and faster since it was first detected in 2016, and the COVID-19 pandemic likely has played a role. The agency said the fungus is an "urgent threat" due to its resistance to echinocandins, an antifungal medicine used to treat it.

"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, lead author of a recently published paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

In the last 12 months, California has seen 359 clinical cases of the fungus, second only to neighboring Nevada, which had 384 cases, according to the CDC. New York has seen the most cases of the fungus since it was discovered in 2016.

C. auris has been detected in more than half the states.

While the CDC said that C. auris is generally not a threat to healthy people, it "can cause severe infections with high death rates."

It mostly spreads inside healthcare facilities that have poor infection control and prevention strategies, the CDC said.

Since the fungus was discovered, there have been a total of 3,270 clinical cases. Each year the number has gone up.

The CDC noted that one potential reason for increased case counts annually is that more people are being screened for C. auris than in the past. The fungus may have started spreading faster during the pandemic, when healthcare facilities were strained.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.