Study reports dramatic increase in highly contagious fungal infection

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The new research reports that cases of a highly contagious fungal infection have risen by 95 percent in 2021. Labelled as an “urgent threat”, the infection can trigger a range of problems, varying from bloodstream to wound infections. The researchers believe that pandemic-related strain on the health care and public health systems could have exacerbated this dramatic spread.

As their name suggests, fungal infections are triggered by fungus – think yeast or mould.

These types of infections most commonly appear on your skin and nails, but they can also crop up in your mouth, throat, lungs, and many other parts of your body.

Now, a highly contagious fungal infection that can travel to your bloodstream has been reported to spread dramatically.

The infection in question is known as Candida auris, which often doesn’t respond to commonly used antifungal drugs, making it difficult to treat.

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Published in the journal of Annals of Internal Medicine, a study of national surveillance data found that cases of Candida auris rose drastically between 2019 and 2021, reflecting increased transmission.

Worryingly, the research team also noticed an increase in treatment-resistant cases.

This is particularly concerning because echinocandins, which are the first-line therapy for invasive Candida infections, including C auris, haven’t worked in all cases.

These findings stress that improved detection and infection control practices are urgently needed to prevent the spread of C auris.

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Since its first appearance in the United States in 2016, the emerging fungus has continued to cause illness and death nationwide. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dubbed C auris as an “urgent threat”.

It explained that the fungus is often multidrug-resistant; spreads easily in health care facilities; and can cause severe, invasive infections with high mortality rates. 

Most transmission occurs in healthcare facilities, especially among residents of long-term care facilities or among patients with tubes that go into their body (such as breathing tubes, feeding tubes, and central venous catheters).

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While the majority of cases crop up in these settings, limited data suggests that risk factors could also include recent surgery, diabetes, broad-spectrum antibiotic and antifungal use.

The new study used national surveillance data on clinical screening of C auris cases reported to state and local health departments.

They also examined data from CDC’s Antimicrobial Resistance Laboratory Network (AR Lab Network). 

Their findings showed that clinical cases soared each year, from a 44 percent increase in 2019 to a 95 percent increase in 2021. 

The team also reported that colonisation screening volume and screening cases increased in 2021 by more than 80 percent and more than 200 percent, respectively. 

Furthermore, the number of first-line-treatment resistant cases was about three times higher in 2021 that in each of the previous two years. 

The researchers think the timing of this spread coincides with the Covid pandemic.

They explained that the strain from coronavirus on healthcare, including staff and equipment shortages, increased patient burden and disease severity, increased antimicrobial use, changes in patient movement patterns, and poor implementation of non–COVID-19 IPC measures, could have exacerbated this spread.

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