A new, infectious, drug-resistant fungus has been found in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 13 cases of the serious and sometimes deadly fungal infection Candida auris have been discovered. The infection, which has been found in other parts of the world, is often spread in healthcare settings.

The seven cases that the CDC was able to examine occurred between May 2013 and August 2016 in New York, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey. Four people in those cases died. Because the patients were very ill to begin with, it's not clear whether the fungus was linked to their deaths or if their deaths were due to underlying medical issues.

Understanding this new threat

The CDC is concerned about C. auris because it's often resistant to the antifungal drugs commonly used to treat other Candida infections. It's also difficult to identify and diagnose with standard testing methods, leading to inappropriate, ineffective treatment. The fungus can also spread rapidly in healthcare settings. Although anyone can be susceptible to an infection, risk factors include patients with diabetes or who've had recent surgery or central venous catheter placement or those using broad-spectrum antibiotics and antifungals.

“We need to act now to better understand, contain and stop the spread of this drug-resistant fungus,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in a statement. “This is an emerging threat, and we need to protect vulnerable patients and others.”

The agency is studying how C. auris is likely spread. Early evidence suggests that it may spread through contact with contaminated equipment or surfaces, or from infected person to person. The CDC is recommending that doctors use special cleaning and disinfecting protocols to protect against C. auris. The agency is also working with labs to make sure they're using the correct tests to diagnose the fungus.

The mystery started in Japan

C. auris was first identified in Japan in 2009, where it was found in the ear canal of a patient who complained of an ear infection. Although "auris" is the Latin word for ear, the fungus can affect many other regions of the body, according to the CDC.

Since then, the fungus has been reported in several countries including Canada, Colombia, India, Israel, Kenya, Kuwait, Pakistan, South Africa, South Korea, Venezuela and the United Kingdom.

Mary Jo DiLonardo Mary Jo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.