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Nearly three dozen people in the United States have been diagnosed with a deadly and highly drug-resistant fungal infection since federal health officials first warned U.S. clinicians last June to be on the lookout for the emerging pathogen that has been spreading around the world.

The fungus, a strain of a kind of yeast known as Candida auris, has been reported in a dozen countries on five continents starting in 2009, where it was first found in an ear infection in a patient in Japan. Since then, the fungus has been reported in Colombia, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Pakistan, South Korea, Venezuela and the United Kingdom.

Unlike garden variety yeast infections, this one causes serious bloodstream infections, spreads easily from person to person in health-care settings, and survives for months on skin and for weeks on bed rails, chairs and other hospital equipment. Some strains are resistant to all three major classes of antifungal drugs. Based on information from a limited number of patients, up to 60 percent of people with these infection have died. Many of them also had other serious underlying illnesses.

Those at greatest risk are individuals who have been in intensive care for a long time or who are on ventilators or have central line catheters inserted into a large vein.

Because invasive bloodstream infections with Candida are common in hospitalized patients in the United States, health officials are concerned that this deadly strain could "get into that mix," Chiller said. Unlike Candida infections in the mouth, throat or ****** (which are typically called yeast infections), invasive yeast infections can affect the blood, heart, brain, eyes, bones and other parts of the body and are more dangerous.

Among infectious disease clinicians and laboratory personnel, infections involving fungi don't typically ring the same kind of alarm bells as antibiotic-resistant bacteria - until now.

"This is a paradigm shift, because Candida is not generally thought of as highly resistant or passed person to person," he said.

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Deadly fungal infection that doctors have been fearing now reported in U.S. | The Charlotte Observer (external - login to view)