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(The Hill) – Candida auris, a rare and sometimes deadly fungal disease, is spreading through the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned this week, citing a “dramatic” increase in cases.

According to the CDC, Candida auris is a type of yeast that can cause severe illness in hospitalized patients. It primarily affects older people and those with weakened immune systems, rejects treatments from traditional antifungal medications and has a mortality rate of up to 60 percent, health officials said.

There were at least 2,377 confirmed cases in the U.S. in 2022, according to CDC statistics. That total was a steep jump from the 1,474 cases in 2021 and continued a rapid increase from 2020, when there were just 757 confirmed cases.

Health officials said that the fungus’s resistance to antifungal medication is “particularly concerning” because those medications are often the first option for treatment, saying it necessitates research into better protection and prevention measures against the fungus.

“The rise in echinocandin-resistant cases and evidence of transmission is particularly concerning because echinocandins are first-line therapy for invasive Candida infections, including C auris,” a research paper into the spread of the fungus in the Annals of Internal Medicine said. “These findings highlight the need for improved detection and infection control practices to prevent spread of C auris.”

The disease has now been tracked in half of the states in the U.S., and CDC officials said it was likely that the coronavirus pandemic worsened the spread of the fungus, as the increased attention on the COVID-19 virus meant there was less emphasis on screening for C. auris. 

Last month, health officials in Mississippi said the fungal infection may be responsible for four recent deaths in the state. At least 12 people have been infected since November, a spokesperson for the Mississippi State Department of Health confirmed to NBC News.

In November, Nevada health officials linked 63 deaths in the state to C. auris.

The virus was first reported in Japan in 2009, but researchers have tracked the earliest strain to South Korea in 1996. The fungus does not usually present a risk to young people.