A nurse is seen inside a screening and isolation field hospital set to fight against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a soccer stadium in the town of Machakos

A warning has been issued for a deadly drug-resistant fungus spreading across the U.S. after a dramatic rise in cases since the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus, known as Candida auris, has been branded 'concerning' and has affected more than half of the states in the U.S.

The warning was issued by the American College of Physicians (ACAP) due to a sharp increase in cases over the recent months.

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had previously described it as an "urgent threat," but data indicates that the number of cases have increased rapidly over the last four years.

According to recent data from the CDC, the number of cases in the U.S. more than tripled between 2020 and 2021. The study also found that cases of antibiotic-resistant strains have also increased in frequency.

Here's what we know about Candida auris so far

According to the CDC, Candida auris (C. auris) is an emerging fungus that presents a major global health threat.

It is considered a serious threat because it is often multi-drug resistant, which means that it is resistant to many of the anti-fungal drugs used to treat Candida infections. According to the CDC, some strains of the fungus are resistant to all three available classes of anti-fungal drugs.

The fungal infection is also hard to identify with standard laboratory methods, and can be misidentified without specific technology, which could lead to inappropriate management. The virus has previously caused outbreaks in hospital settings.

It is estimated that about 60 percent of those infected by the fungus pass away.

Details about the known cases of the virus

The first instance of Candida auris (C. auris) was documented in Japan in 2009, while the earliest documented case in the U.S. dates back to 2013.

According to a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal, the number of cases increased significantly through the end of 2021. The infections had risen from 1,310 in 2020 to 4,041 in 2021.

The CDC revealed that 2,377 clinical diagnoses were reported and 5,754 cases were identified through screening last year.

"We're continuing to see the number of cases increase. So what we saw before is continuing. It didn't stop. The issues that we've seen are continuing and it didn't resolve," said Dr. Meghan Lyman, an epidemiologist at CDC and lead author of the report.

"There's still a lot to learn about colonisation patterns. But the treatment doesn't seem to completely— while it may treat the infection, we don't have evidence that it completely eliminates C. auris from their body," she added, as reported by CBS News.

It is said that the number of C auris cases may be underestimated in the study as screening for the fungus is not uniformly conducted across the country.

How does Candida auris spread?

C. auris cases have mostly been reported in health care settings like hospitals and nursing homes. It can spread from patient to patient by direct contact (person to person transmission). It can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces.

Candida auris can affect the body of an infected person in two different ways. The fungus can spread to other people through a process known as "asymptomatic colonisation," in which the fungus lives on a specific region of the body like the skin, rectum or the mouth, where a patient has no symptoms but can infect others.

It can also enter a person's bloodstream or wound, where it can cause serious invasive infections.

Symptoms of Candida auris

Candida auris can cause different kinds of infection, the most common symptoms of the infection are fever and chills that do not subside even after being treated with antibiotics.

The diagnosis of C. auris is difficult as many other common diseases share the same symptoms. Due to this, misdiagnosis often leads to the wrong treatment. The correct diagnosis often requires sending a blood sample or samples from an infected part of the body to a specialised lab to definitively confirm the presence of the fungus.

Available treatment options for Candida Auris

An anti-fungal drug known as echinocandins is widely administered to treat Candida auris. However, while most infections caused by the fungus can be treated using echinocandins. Scientists have been worried by a rise in the number of cases resistant to the main three classes of anti-fungals available.

According to the CDC, people who have various underlying medical illnesses and those who have recently stayed in healthcare facilities like nursing homes or intensive care units are most susceptible to the fungus.