CDC calls drug resistant fungus Candida auris an 'urgent threat'

The Centers for Disease Control released startling new statistics this week about the number of people dying from drug resistant infections, estimating that someone dies from one every 15 minutes.

In recent years, hospitals have made intensive efforts to combat emerging drug-resistant super bugs and have reduced deaths from the germs in hospitals by roughly 30%, according to the CDC.

However, certain bugs are continuing to spread, frustrating doctors' efforts.

In the newly released CDC report on drug-resistant infections, doctors identified a list of germs categorized as "urgent threats" -- among them is a fungus known as Candida auris.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said that before 2013, doctors were unaware of Candida auris, which appeared over the last six years and quickly became problematic.

"The fungus has only recently emerged as a deadly germ," Dr. Redfield said. "To underscore the challenge we are facing, we don't know exactly why this organism all of a sudden appeared really on a global scale. That's unusual. Usually we see an outbreak, and we define it and then there's gradual spread. So that's an area that we continue to try to better understand."

Doctors say one out of three patients who catch Candida auris will die and added that some samples of the germ have shown resistance to all three classes of anti-fungal drugs.

"We don't know why or where or what the root causes are," said Dr. Michael Craig, of the CDC's Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit.

Because the bug typically impacts people with weakened immune systems, it has caused particular problems in long term care facilities.

Its symptoms include fever and fatigue, which also make it initially difficult to detect, according to doctors.

7 On Your Side Investigates spoke to the families of two patients who contracted the disease and died.

"They had no idea why she kept having these fevers," said Celeste Dance, whose aunt died after getting diagnosed with Candida auris. "She would get better in the hospital with antibiotics, go back to rehab, be good for a month or two, and go back to the hospital."

Dance's aunt received care at Palm Gardens in Brooklyn.

Anthony Hernandez said his wife also received care at Palm Gardens and died after getting diagnosed with Candida auris.

"I came in to see my wife, and they said, 'You can't go in there,'" he said. "And I said, 'Why not?' They said, 'We got a quarantine.'"

Of the 13 states where the CDC has confirmed cases of the Candida auris, New York has seen the most cases.

Data from the New York State Health Department indicates roughly two out of three cases in New York have been in Brooklyn.

7 On Your Side Investigateshas been covering the germ's spread in medical facilities in New York City for months.

"While it's difficult to determine why cases are concentrated in a particular area, C. auris was initially introduced from other countries and large cities often have more frequent international travelers," a health department spokesperson said.

The Health Department recently released its first list of facilities in New York with confirmed cases of Candida auris but did not say how many cases each facility had encountered.

A spokesperson said the state has developed a special team focused on Candida auris. The team works with facilities to screen patients at facilities experiencing the bug and to inure proper hygiene, including protective equipment such as gowns and gloves, and sanitation efforts to reduce its spread.

The spokesperson added that some facilities have also begun screening patients for Candida auris when they are admitted and the state is "encouraging laboratories to develop capacity for rapid testing."

Palm Gardens did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

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