NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A hospital in New Orleans says it has identified two patients infected with a rare, drug-resistant fungus - the first time it has been found in Louisiana.
Candida auris has already been found in Washington, DC and at least 20 other states, including Georgia, Florida and Texas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The fungus is a harmful form of yeast that can be resistant to the most common fungicides.
The CDC considers it a new global threat and says it is particularly dangerous for hospital and nursing home patients with serious medical problems.
Although patients at University Medical Center are the first known in Louisiana, other undetected cases are likely, Dr. Nirav Patel, MD, to The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate.
"This error could have been here in Louisiana for a while," he said, noting outbreaks in Florida, where 135 cases have been reported, and Texas, with 30.
More than 1,100 cases had been diagnosed nationwide per year. August 21, according to the CDC. California had reported 245 cases, Illinois 243, New York 235 and New Jersey 70.
The CDC says that people who are most vulnerable are those who have been to a health center for a long time and have a line or tube inserted into their body, such as a breathing tube, feeding tube, or central venous catheter. It can cause infections in the bloodstream or in wounds.
The hospital, referring to the patient's privacy, did not answer the newspaper's questions about whether its infected patients had recently been transferred from other health centers, when the infections were identified, or whether the patients had a history of international travel.
But it is likely that more cases will follow, said Dr. Alfred Luk, Medical Director of Transplant Infectious Diseases at Tulane University School of Medicine.
"I know everyone is exhausted by alarming news, but I'm really worried about it," Luk said. "Usually when we find this ... I equate it with the tip of the iceberg."
The fungus can easily spread in environments such as nursing homes and hospitals because it can survive on skin and other surfaces. It has probably been brewing on surfaces and people for some time, Luk said.
Health experts said the risk is low for healthy patients, but those who are immunocompromised may face serious complications. It has killed 30% to 60% of infected people, but many of them "had other serious illnesses that also increased their risk of death," according to the CDC website.
The yeast was first identified in a Japanese patient's ear infection in 2009 and was given the species name auris, meaning "ear". In 2016, the United States announced 13 known cases in the country, the first from 2013.