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"Superbug" fungus strikes New York, New Jersey hospitals

New York and New Jersey are the focal point for infections from a new "superbug" fungus that is emerging in U.S. hospitals.

  A strain of Candida auris cultured in a petri dish at CDC. CDC

First identified in Japan in 2009, the fungus has spread to more than a dozen countries around the globe. The oldest of the 66 cases reported in the U.S. dates back to 2013, but most were reported in the last year, CBS New York reports.

The fungus called Candida auris is a harmful form of yeast. Scientists say it can be hard to identify with standard lab tests. U.S. health officials sounded alarms last year because two of the three kinds of commonly used antifungal drugs have little effect against it.

"It's acting like a superbug," said Dr. Paige Armstrong of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comparing it to drug-resistant bacteria that don't respond to antibiotics.

Hospital patients -- particularly newborns and the elderly -- are the most vulnerable. It tends to be diagnosed in patients after they've been in the hospital for several weeks. The fungus can infect wounds, ears and the bloodstream.

A study presented at a CDC conference last week details how researchers traveled to South America to help investigate an outbreak in three Colombia cities. They found the fungus on surfaces in hospital rooms and on the skin of nurses and patients -- even after patients were treated with antifungal medications.

Last week, state health officials provided new details about the 44 cases in New York. Aside from one case in Rochester, all were in New York City, at 15 hospitals and a doctor's office. No site has had more than six cases.

Seventeen New York patients died, but state officials said everyone infected had other illnesses and the fungus was not necessarily the cause of death.

New Jersey has had 15 cases, Illinois had 4, and there's been one case each in Indiana, Maryland and Massachusetts, according to the CDC.

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