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'Urgent threat': CDC warns of deadly fungus rapidly spreading in U.S., including Wisconsin

The CDC says the fungus is spreading at an "alarming rate" in U.S. healthcare facilities and is resistant to anti-fungal drugs.
Posted at 8:15 PM, Mar 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-22 17:17:50-04

MILWAUKEE — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning the public about a rapidly spreading fungus considered an "urgent antimicrobial resistance threat."

In a memo released Monday, the CDC says the deadly fungus is spreading at an "alarming rate" in U.S. healthcare facilities and has been detected in over half of the country, including Wisconsin.

The fungus, Candida auris (C. auris), is resistant to anti-fungal drugs, meaning it can be hard to treat. The Associated Press reports that some strains are called "superbugs" and are resistant to all three classes of antibiotic drugs used to treat fungal infections. It is also difficult to identify with standard lab tests. The fungus, a form of yeast, spreads easily and can infect wounds, ears, and the bloodstream.

Superbug Fungus
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)

"CDC has deemed C. auris as an urgent AR threat, because it is often resistant to multiple antifungal drugs, spreads easily in healthcare facilities, and can cause severe infections with high death rates," the CDC said in a memo Monday.

CDC says the fungus is not a threat to healthy people. Instead, it is deemed an urgent threat to people who are very sick, have invasive medical devices, or have long or frequent stays in healthcare facilities.

C. auris was first detected in Japan in 2009. In the United States, the first case appeared in 2013 but was not reported until 2016. Clinical cases increased each year with the most rapid rise during 2020-2021 and a continued increase in 2022. According to CDC data, the fungus has been detected in 28 states so far.

'Urgent threat': CDC warns of rapidly spreading fungus in 28 states, including Wisconsin

"Nationwide, clinical cases rose from 476 in 2019 to 1,471 in 2021. Screening cases tripled from 2020 to 2021, for a total of 4,041," the CDC said. "Screening is important to prevent spread by identifying patients carrying the fungus so that infection prevention controls can be used."

The Associated Press reports the COVID-19 pandemic likely drove the increase due to strained hospital workers shifting their focus away from disinfecting other kinds of germs.

You can read the full memo on the CDC website.

Physicians concerned about severe strep throat infections

Physicians concerned about severe strep throat infections

Ubah Ali | March 9, 2023

WISCONSIN — A new health crisis is making children and adults sick. Physicians say strep throat cases this year are the worst they've seen in decades.

"This is the next big problem," said Dr. Gregory DeMuri, UW Health Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician.

With Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu cases declining, Dr. DeMuri said severe strep infections are alarmingly high, particularly among children.

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can cause a myriad of problems. Symptoms include a fever, sore throat, headache, etc.

Dr. DeMuri said he's never seen so many severe cases in three decades.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's State Laboratory shows that during the week starting Feb. 18 about 40% of strep tests came back positive. The year's prior peak positivity rate stayed under 20%.

Children's Wisconsin and local clinics are also seeing similar increases.

Dr. DeMuri believes this is due to a new aggressive strain of strep and the lack of people not being exposed to the bacteria in years.

"It's just unusual to see any child in the hospital with a complication with strep," DeMuri stated.

Serious complications where the bacteria spreads into other parts of the body including the lungs.

He adds hospitals are operating very full, but are not overwhelmed.

Doctors say getting an early diagnosis combined with antibiotics can prevent severe illness.

DeMuri said the percent positivity rate has gone down in the last few weeks. He hopes to see the decline continue with the bacteria coming to an end when the school year ends.

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