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Untreatable 'superbug' fungus that resists all drugs detected in Texas and DC

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candida auris
A petri dish holding the yeast Candida auris in a laboratory in Wuerzburg, Germany, in 2018. Nicolas Armer/picture alliance via Getty Images
  • A drug-resistant fungus has killed three people in Dallas and Washington, DC.

  • The especially dangerous strain of C. auris is resistant to all three major antifungals.

  • Some of the people who caught it had not received antifungals, and the strain is spreading.

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An untreatable fungus is spreading in two Dallas-area hospitals and a nursing home in Washington, DC, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The fungus, a yeast called Candida auris, was already resistant to most antifungal treatments. In 2019, three cases in New York broke through the last line of defense, a class of drugs called echinocandins.

This is the first time health officials have seen a "clustering of resistance" in people who had not previously received antifungal treatment, meaning the dangerous strain is spreading person-to-person within facilities.

C. auris is especially dangerous to seriously ill patients living in hospitals or long-term care facilities. In those settings, a fungus can spread via contaminated surfaces and equipment. One hospital even had to rip out the floor and ceiling tiles in a room where an infected patient died.

In Texas, the two patients who had so-called "pan-resistant" infections died. One of the three infected nursing home residents in DC also died.

Not all of the infections in the outbreaks were completely drug-resistant. The Dallas cluster included 22 cases total across two hospitals, and the DC outbreak saw 101 cases of C. auris, according to the Associated Press.

Most C. auris strains are resistant to some antifungals, but can be treated with echinocandins. If that treatment doesn't work, healthcare workers are essentially out of options, CDC medical officer Meghan Lyman told STAT.

"These cases are ones where the options are really limited," Lyman said. "And the fact that now it can spread … means that a greater proportion of patients may have pan-resistance and [may] develop clinical infections that are potentially untreatable."

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