CDC: Untreatable 'superbug' outbreak discovered at DC nursing home

The CDC is reporting that a potentially dangerous and untreatable 'superbug' has been found at a DC-area nursing home. Now, healthcare facilities in the area are told to be on high alert. 

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U.S. health officials announced Thursday they now have evidence that the fungus spread in the nursing home as well as two hospitals in the Dallas area.

"This is really the first time we've started seeing clustering of resistance" in which patients seemed to be getting the infections from each other, said the CDC's Dr. Meghan Lyman.

A handful of the patients had invasive fungal infections that were impervious to all three major classes of medications, which the CDC has classified as outbreaks. 

"Since the 2010s, we've been tracking a fungus called Candida auris, which is very concerning because it is multi-drug resistant," said Dr. Amesh Adalija with Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "It emerged on three continents simultaneously snd it has really been something that can cause a lot of damage when it gets into nursing homes or into health care facilities because it preys on those who are already frail, already ill." 

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Candida auris is a harmful form of yeast that is considered dangerous to hospital and nursing home patients with serious medical problems. It is most deadly when it enters the bloodstream, heart or brain. Outbreaks in health care facilities have been spurred when the fungus spread through patient contact or on contaminated surfaces.

Health officials have been sounding the alarm for years about the superbug after seeing infections in which commonly used drugs had little effect. In 2019, doctors diagnosed three cases in New York that were also resistant to a class of drugs, called echinocandins, that were considered a last line of defense.

In those cases, there was no evidence the infections had spread from patient to patient — scientists concluded the resistance to the drugs formed during treatment.

The new cases did spread, the CDC concluded.

In Washington, D.C., a cluster of 101 C. auris cases at a nursing home dedicated to very sick patients included three that were resistant to all three kinds of antifungal medications. Officials have not yet identified the nursing care facility. 

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A cluster of 22 in two Dallas-area hospitals included two with that level of resistance. The facilities weren't identified.

Those cases were seen from January to April. Of the five people who were fully resistant to treatment, three died — both Texas patients and one in Washington.

Lyman said both are ongoing outbreaks and that additional infections have been identified since April. But those added numbers were not reported.

Investigators reviewed medical records and found no evidence of previous antifungal use among the patients in those clusters. Health officials say that means they spread from person to person.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.