Mystery Disease With High Death Rate Spreading Like Wildfire

A deadly new germ that preys on people with lowered immunity is creeping across the globe, thanks in large part to decades of overprescribing antimicrobial drugs and the use of antifungicides on crops.

The New York Times reported Saturday that the infection is caused by a fungus known as Candida auris that kills nearly half of all patients who contract it within 90 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bug was first discovered in 2009 after a 70-year-old Japanese woman arrived at a hospital in Tokyo with C. auris in her ear canal. Since then, the aggressive yeast infection has begun spreading across Asia and Europe. It arrived in the U.S. in 2016, the Times noted:

The earliest known case in the United States involved a woman who arrived at a New York hospital on May 6, 2013, seeking care for respiratory failure. She was 61 and from the United Arab Emirates, and she died a week later, after testing positive for the fungus. At the time, the hospital hadn’t thought much of it, but three years later, it sent the case to the C.D.C. after reading the agency’s June 2016 advisory.

Graphic credit: CDC and The New York Times.

“It is a creature from the black lagoon,” said the CDC’s Dr. Tom Chiller, head of the agency’s fungal branch. “It bubbled up and now it is everywhere.”Over the past five years, the germ has breezed through a hospital in Spain, descended on a neonatal unit in collapsing Venezuela, forced a prestigious medical center ICU in Britain to close for almost two weeks, and spread through a number of countries including South Africa, Pakistan, and India.

In the last five years alone, it has swept through a hospital in Spain, hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, spread throughout India, Pakistan and South Africa, and forced a prestigious British medical center to close its ICU for nearly two weeks:

By the end of June 2016, a scientific paper reported “an ongoing outbreak of 50 C. auris cases” at Royal Brompton, and the hospital took an extraordinary step: It shut down its I.C.U. for 11 days, moving intensive care patients to another floor, again with no announcement.

Days later the hospital finally acknowledged to a newspaper that it had a problem. A headline in The Daily Telegraph warned, “Intensive Care Unit Closed After Deadly New Superbug Emerges in the U.K.” (Later research said there were eventually 72 total cases, though some patients were only carriers and were not infected by the fungus.)

After the germ spread to New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, the CDC added the bug to a list of other germs deemed an “urgent threat.”

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